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Exhibit spotlights women

An advertisement for the new Superba Ball Bearing Washing Machine promises to make life easier.


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Some of the larger artifacts in the archives of the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia are featured in “Home: A Factory Managed By Women” on display at the Jonesborough / Washington County History Museum. 

The museum is located in the Historic Visitors Center at 117 Boone Street.

Heritage Alliance Executive Director Deborah Montanti said the exhibit  “allows us to showcase artifacts that are not usually on display” like a cream separator and a wooden washing machine. 

Montanti explained that the “Factory” part of the title is intended to show how the mechanization of household work in the late 1800s both helped and hindered women of the era. The machines saved time but they also added more complexity to a woman’s plate.

In addition to running the household, increased productivity lead to paying jobs for many women in sewing, washing, butter production and more.

A McCormick Deering cream separator is on display in the museum.

“Women could sell butter and eggs,” Montanti said.   The exhibit includes butter molds that “could have given them a better selling price.”

The director thinks the washing machine may have been hand-made in the late 19th century. 

There is a sewing machine in the collection whose origin remains a mystery.   The very basic looking machine was manufactured by A. P. Sharp & Co. Of Baltimore, Maryland, but research by the Alliance staff has failed to locate any additional information on the machine or the manufacturer. 

A second machine on display was manufactured by the Davis Sewing Machine Company and sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. under the moniker “Minnesota.”

According to International Sewing Machine Collectors Company, “1899 saw the introduction of a vibrating shuttle sewing machine made by The Davis Sewing Machine Company of Dayton, Ohio. With a few exceptions, Davis would become the sole supplier of sewing machines to Sears until about 1912.”

A treadle sewing machine promised separated cream and new clothes right from home.

“We have four or five sewing machines in our collection.  Sears and Montgomery Ward brought manufactures’ appliances to rural folks,” Montanti said. “They were delivered by railroad to towns across the nation as shown by material at the Chuckey Depot Museum.” 

The Visitors Center exhibit contains an early catalog washing machine advertisement. 

Sears, Roebuck and Company, colloquially known as Sears, is an American chain of department stores founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1892. The corporation was reincorporated in 1906. Formerly based at the Sears Tower in Chicago and currently headquartered in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, the operation began as a mail ordering catalog company. The company started opening retail locations in 1925. Sears was the largest retailer in the United States until October 1989, when Walmart surpassed it.

Montgomery Ward Inc. is the name of two historically distinct American retail enterprises. It can refer either to the defunct mail order and department store retailer, which operated between 1872 and 2001 or to the current catalog and online retailer also known as Wards.

“Women have played a vital role in the health and success of the family throughout history.  They may not have gone off to work but their work at home contributed a vast amount to the family. Women have contributed both ways (as care givers and financial providers) in bringing home the ‘bread,’” Montanti said.

Located in the center of the museum, the “Home: A Factory Managed By Women” was a joint effort of the Heritage Alliance staff.  Jacob Simpson played a leading role in putting together the display that has been on exhibit for nearly a month.  It will continue through the end of the year.   

Early each year the Alliance staff meets to plan an exhibition schedule.  “We are very fortunate to have the talent level on our staff.  I would not trade my staff for any other group in the world – they are top notch,” said Montanti. “People do not realize the time it takes to put together an exhibit.  It is a thoughtful and time-consuming process.”

For that reason and the demand for docents and tour guides, Montanti said the Alliance is always looking for volunteers.  Those individuals who volunteer will receive training in order to successfully undertake a variety of duties available in the non-profit organization.

Founded in 1982, the Jonesborough / Washington County History Museum and Archives collects artifacts, documents, and photographs to help tell the stories of the land and people who constituted “the mother of Tennessee.”

The Alliance collection focuses on the social, cultural and economic history of Jonesborough and Washington County.  The museum’s photographic collection spans the period from 1850 through the 1980s.  It includes a number of photographs from early Jonesborough photographers L. W. Keen and O. L. Hensley.

Exhibits on display feature information on early life in Washington County, the clock that kept time in the 1847 Courthouse, and Jonesborough’s very first firefighting equipment from the late 1800s      Hours of operation at the History Museum are from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.  There is no admission charge to visit the museum but donations are welcomed.