116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The men may have made the money that built and maintained Brucemore mansion, but it’s the women who lived and worked there that kept it alive, not just for their families, but for all to experience and explore in perpetuity.
The women of Brucemore have been mentioned in previous guided tours, but this spring, their lives and contributions will be the focus of “In Her Step: Women’s History Tour.” The first tour, slated for March 3, is sold out, but on March 15, tickets will go on sale online for the March 31 tour.
“Women’s history has always been something that we have incorporated into our tours. It’s such a huge part of our story as a historic house museum and as an organization,” said Jessica Peel-Austin, Brucemore’s curator of museum collections.
What: “In Her Steps: Women’s History Tour”
Where: Brucemore mansion, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 31 (March 3 tour is sold out)
Tickets: $15 adults, $10 students, on sale March 15 at brucemore.org/event/in-her-steps-womens-history-presentation/
“The women who were part of the families — the Sinclairs, the Douglases, the Halls — just have so many important things to share with us. Their contributions really led us to being what we are today, so that’s something that we really wanted to highlight, especially making the connections during Women’s History Month in March.”
This programming was piloted during the pandemic as an online lecture.
“The idea for it was something that we had been thinking about for a long time,” Peel-Austin said, and now the timing was right to turn it into a 90-minute in-person tour.
Brucemore initially was cited as the T.M. Sinclair Mansion on the application for inclusion on the National Trust for Historic Preservation, even though he died three years before his widow, Caroline Sinclair, purchased the land in 1884 and built the Queen Anne-style mansion, completed in 1886 as a home for their six children. The attribution has been corrected to reflect Caroline Sinclair’s legacy.
“Right from the beginning, before we were a museum or cultural center, that perception was there that this was a great man’s house,” Peel-Austin said. “That goes along with the 1970s and the movement toward incorporating a lot of historic house museums and associating them with these prominent men in their communities.”
Thomas McElderry Sinclair made his fortune with the Sinclair meatpacking plant, which became the fourth-largest meatpacking plant in the world. He died March 24, 1881, after falling into an elevator shaft while inspecting the plant.
So the tour begins Caroline Sinclair’s story, then moves on to Irene Douglas, matriarch of the next family to live on the estate.
“(She) played such an important role in conceptualizing the estate as we know it today,” Peel-Austin said. “George (Douglas) was a very important entrepreneur in the city, with Douglas Starchworks and also the philanthropy he was involved with, but the estate was her domain.
“She’s the person who created her vision of what she wanted the estate to be like. She was really instrumental in planning the landscape and the gardens, selecting the outbuildings to be constructed, and then giving us that legacy of supporting the arts and the culture by having events on the ground and patronizing local artists and hiring them to do work around the house. She’s helped us to carry forth that vision that we use today.”
Oldest daughter Margaret Hall and her husband, Howard, were the mansion’s final residents, and Margaret bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1981.
“She translates that vision that Caroline and Irene had for the estate as an important part of the community, and giving that gift that allows us to be here, and to be able to share our history and our story and our space with the community today.”
While those three women are the main focus of this new tour, the other women who lived and worked on the estate will be discussed as well, from the other Douglas sisters and family members like Titanic survivor Mahala Douglas, to servants and Douglas family nanny Ella McDannel; female artists who worked with family members; garden designer Helen Agnes DuPuy; and Peggy Whitworth, Brucemore’s founding executive director.
“We’re trying to share all of these stories of these amazing women that were involved with it,” Peel-Austin.
Guided Nooks and Crannies tours also resume this spring, taking visitors from the basement to the attic of the 21-room mansion.
Self-guided tours continue as well, and visitors are welcome to stroll the grounds daily until 4:30 p.m. Opening times vary from 8 a.m. weekdays to 9:30 a.m. weekends.
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