Teaching with the Dawes House as a Classroom
Pre- and Post-Visit Lesson Planning: Grades 6-12
Below you will find a variety of basic exercises that will help structure a visit to the Dawes House. The exercises are designed to help students focus on specific historical or social aspects related to U.S. History and culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are broken into sections to be conducted before, during and after a tour of the Dawes House. Each exercise can be adapted to particular assignments and to particular grade levels.
Provide students with a copy of the list of items below. Ask them to identify the objects if they can. Explain how each item represents a facet of luxury enjoyed in the home by the upper classes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and explain that not all households in Evanston would have contained many of these items. Discuss how today some items from the list have disappeared entirely from the home, while others are staples in a majority of homes.
The items below provide a rich foundation from which students can learn about technology, class, domestic life, and material culture. During their tour, students will learn how and why each item was used, who used it, and what each item “said” about the family living in a home with these items.
Items to look for during your visit to the Dawes House:
• Annunciator Box and Buttons (Call system) (kitchen)
• Elevator (great hall)
• Radiator (great hall)
• Tiffany Electrolier (dining room)
• Maytag Washing Machine (kitchen)
• Electric/gas fixture (kitchen)
• Telephone (great hall)
• Ice Door (outside of kitchen)
• Stereoscope (library)
After your visit, discuss the various items they learned about during the tour. Ask them to think about how the items made life easier and/or more enjoyable for those who used them. You may ask students to consider which items are no longer used today and which have become more prevalent. Why have some disappeared? Why have others become commonplace? What do these items reveal about the ways in which technology and the home have changed since the early 20th century?
• Discuss the various roles of the many people living in the Dawes House in the early 20th century. Explain how the house had as many as ten people living in it: General and Mrs. Dawes, two of their younger children, Carolyn and Dana Dawes; a downstairs maid, an upstairs maid, a cook, nanny, chauffeur, and groundskeeper; other servants were day laborers only and came one or two days a week to do their work, such as the laundress.
• Discuss with students the ways that the experience of living in the Dawes House on a daily basis would vary depending upon one’s position within it. For a maid, the day was full of tasks and work, with only one evening off and half a day on Sunday. These maids were always female and they were also immigrants, usually having little or no family of their own nearby. For one of the Dawes’ children, however, life was a great deal easier, involving school and chores, but also entertainment and playing.
• During their visit, students will learn more about the various roles individuals played in the house, from the servants to the family members. They will also have a chance to view the places in the house used by different people, from the servants’ areas such as the kitchen, “day room,” and butler’s pantry, to the family and guest areas such as the parlors, library and dining room.
• Ask students to write a single day’s diary entry as if they were someone living in the Dawes house in 1910. (You may either assign specific roles or have students choose for themselves.) They may choose to write from the point of view of a maid, chauffeur, gardener, or cook, General or Mrs. Dawes, Dana or Virginia, or, perhaps, a guest or visitor to the home.
• What did they do on that day? What rooms were they in? What did they see? How did they spend the day? What might they have been thinking about their life in the Dawes house? Encourage students to be creative in imagining what their day would be like.
• Next, talk with students about how this imaginary diary helped them think about life in the Dawes house nearly one hundred years ago. How did their imaginary day differ from the ways they spend their days today? What were some of the most interesting things about their days? What were some of the most dramatic or challenging? In what ways were things better or worse than today?
For: Grades: 9-12
• Assign an early 20th century novel or novella to your students to read.
• As students investigate the book’s structure, language, and meanings, the setting of the Dawes House can serve as a wonderful three-dimensional teaching opportunity for deepening their understanding of a work of literature. A variety of novels from the early 20th century can be paired with a tour of the Dawes House in order to add texture to the students’ reading of particular works.
Books used by classes in the past include:
Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
Washington Square, Henry James
• These or other similar books provide an opportunity to reflect on American mores, social class and convention, wealth and class. They also make use of domestic spaces as important settings for the development of plot and character. Features that can be highlighted on a tour of the Dawes House include the separation of spaces and room function, the importance of privacy, “Victorian” design, and the statement of wealth and power in material form (i.e., the Dawes House exterior, the Great Hall, furnishings, etc.).
• Ask the students to talk about the ways in which a visit to an upper class home of the late 19th century helps to deepen their understanding of the time period. Ask them to consider the ways in which the house’s décor, layout, and “sense of place” reveal something about how a setting shapes behavior and identity.
• Prior to your visit, provide students with a list of the rooms they will see at the Dawes House. Have them each select two rooms. Ask them to pay special attention during their tour to their chosen rooms and to take notes (in pencil only) about each room’s function, design, and feel, as well as the specific items in the rooms that catch their eye.
List of Rooms:
• Great Hall
• West Parlor
• East Parlor
• Dining Room
• Day Room
• Have the students compare and contrast the two rooms they selected. What are the differences in the two rooms? How are they decorated? What kinds of tasks were performed in each room? Who performed them? What do the comparisons reveal about the different roles of people in the Dawes House?
• When the house at 225 Greenwood was completed in 1896, it contained many of the most advanced technological attributes of the time, including electricity, heating, and indoor plumbing. This exercise will help students compare and contrast the ways that technology has evolved from the late nineteenth century to today.
• Before your visit: discuss the definition and role of technology in everyday life today. Ask students to think about the technology they and their families use every day. Make a list of contemporary items that students identify as part of their daily lives (i.e. television, cell phone, cars, air conditioning, etc.)
• Discuss how and why they use technology. You may want to ask them to consider how technology makes their lives easier/harder, better/worse. Ask them to consider the ways they think (or don’t think) about how their relationship to technology impacts them.
Once at the Dawes House, students will be shown many of the technological innovations in the Dawes House. These include:
• Electric outlets/fixtures
• Gas fixture (in kitchen)
• Indoor Plumbing
• Coal Heating (radiators)
• Annunciator box
• Elevator (1915)
• Ice Door
• Washing Machine
After your visit to the Dawes House, ask students to compare and contrast current technology with that of the Dawes House. Make a list of the items they viewed in the Dawes house and discuss the ways that technology has changed over the last one hundred years. In what ways is life today easier/harder, better/worse?