We were excited to have these visitors because we had some very special stories to tell them. From the grand front door of our house to the lush courtyard, a story was to unfold about the women and enslaved people who walked through the same rooms, along the stones of the yard more than a hundred years ago.
Women of the Past: A Visit to the Hermann Grima House
It was a warm summer day in the French Quarter. The Hermann-Grima House education staff patiently waited in the artificial cool of the carriage house for some very important visitors. We waited patiently as so many women before us have waited for visitors to 820 St. Louis Street. Before we knew it, our VIPs arrived. It was a wonderful group of children from The National Park Service Camp toting their water bottles and umbrellas like every good New Orleanian does during July.
Our journey began at the beginning as journeys often do and we met the original “lady of the house”, Mrs. Samuel Hermann (Emeranthe Becnel Brou). Mrs. Hermann grew up on a plantation up the river called “Evergreen”. Her family grew sugar cane and owned enslaved people who worked the fields. Mrs. Hermann owned several enslaved women herself when she moved into her new home in the French Quarter in 1831.
The enslaved women who worked for Mrs. Hermann helped her clean house, get dressed, entertain guests and care for her children. One of the many things they were not allowed to do was serve her guests tea in the parlour. That job was exclusively left to the lady of the house. “Well,” one of our young guests asked, “who is the lady in the painting above the fireplace?”
It was Marie Virginie, Mrs. Hermann’s only daughter and the only one of her children who would care for she and her husband in their older years. Guess how old she was in the painting? Sixteen and eligible to be married! That sure did wow our young visitors!
As we moved into the lovely dining room, the stories unfolded of grand dinners and graceful guests. Children of course would not be invited to this room for meals. Behind the grand dinners and the children’s care were the enslaved women who made it all happen. They cleaned everything from the silver to the furniture, cooked the food, and fed the children (in a separate room of course). Our inquisitive young guests wanted to know what many of the things in the room could possibly be, like the odd black thing in front of the fireplace that looked like a little refrigerator….a plate warmer! They were also very intrigued by these large paintings of the Hermanns. What was the reason for this they asked…
Well, you’ll have to schedule a tour of your own to find out! There is another family by the name of the Grimas who lived here with a story of their own as well as The Christian Woman’s Exchange who owned the house until the 1960’s. There’s so much to tell!
All of the children who come through our museums are special to us and we love sharing our stories with them. Our recent visitors were very curious about the lives of the women and enslaved people at our museum. That’s why we tailored our tour to that. We have many amazing tales, facts, and pieces that deal with many different historic and cultural subjects.