The Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion is Philadelphia’s only authentically restored Victorian house museum. Located in the historic Germantown section of the city, the Mansion was built in 1859 for Ebenezer Maxwell, a Philadelphia cloth merchant. After the death of its last resident in 1956, the Mansion was in danger of demolition before community opposition saved the building and eventually the house was placed on the City of Philadelphia Historical Commission’s Register of Historic Places.
The Mansion’s regular house tour, Upstairs, Downstairs, interprets the lifestyles of its two main inhabitants, the Maxwell family and the Hunter/Stevenson family. The first floor rooms reflect the tastes and styles of a rising middle-class family of the 1860’s, while the second floor is furnished in the style and taste of the more socially prominent second family of the 1880’s. Playing off of the themes of the Mansion’s regular tours, the Upstairs, Downstairs tour is an immersion experience for guests and leverages the Mansion’s unique history, physical spaces, and collections to present interpretative narratives about the challenges and pleasures experienced by 19th century women of diverse socio economic status.
Tour themes address problems encountered by women such as taxation without representation, lack of personal freedom, employment, property rights, and divorce and custody laws. The downstairs portion of the tour is presented by a docent dressed as a Victorian-era maid, while upstairs the costumed docent represents the more socially prominent mistress of the house. Period clothing, display boards exhibiting fashion, recipes, etiquette, and other historical points of interest, post-program champagne served with light “comestibles”, and take-home items — including a “jumble” cookie and recipe (a popular 19th century treat) and a Victorian woman portrait pin and biographical card, are all included to supplement the experience.
Upstairs, Downstairs enhances the Mansion’s interpretation of Victorian-era culture with emphasis on the role of 19th century women from all walks of life including suffragists, writers, artists, maids, socialites, abolitionists, medical doctors, and even counterfeiters and prostitutes. Additionally Upstairs, Downstairs discusses the impact on, and service of, women during the Civil War. Philadelphia women contributed to the war effort by volunteering at local hospitals, penning music or poetry (patriotic and funereal) or organizing relief efforts for soldiers and their families, making them a vital part of Philadelphia and the nation’s story.