King Manor Museum

King Manor Association

The particular objects for which it is to be formed are to foster patriotism, good citizenship and healthful social relations among its members and in the community, and for the purpose of restoring and furnishing the Governor King house, in King Park, Queens County, State of New York, and preserving it as a typical Colonial homestead for the use of the woman's clubs and associations of Long Island.
Certificate of Incorporation,
King Manor Association of Long Island, Inc. 1900

The King Manor Association of Long Island, Inc. was founded in 1900 by women of the Jamaica and Long Island communities, including the noted colonial revival author Alice Morse Earle. Just two years after the consolidation of New York City, the organization created the second historic house museum in New York City and strove to preserve the legacy of Queens as part of Long Island while celebrating the King Family's contributions to American history.

The Ladies

State University of New York
Fashion Institute of Technology

Clubwomen, Consolidation, and Colonial Revival:
The King Manor Association of Long Island, Inc.

A Thesis Submitted to
The Division of Graduate Studies
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree Of Master of Arts

Department of Museums Studies: Applied Arts

By
Nadezhda Williams
New York, New York
October 2002

Abstract

Museums throughout the nation interpret a wide variety of subject matter. Often, the reason a museum was created is as interesting, and sometimes even as important, as the topic it seeks to discuss. This thesis is the story of the formation in 1900 of the King Manor Association of Long Island, Inc. (KMA) and the King Manor Museum (KMM) which it created. The fifteen women who formed the KMA were influenced by a number of issues including the women’s club movement, the colonial revival, and the consolidation of the City of New York. Their reactions to these matters are apparent in the Association and KMM during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

King Manor in Jamaica, Queens was the residence of founding father Rufus King from 1805 until his death in 1827. His eldest son John Alsop King, who became governor of New York State in 1857, also lived in the home which became known in the neighborhood as “The Governor King House.” Following the younger King’s death in 1867, pieces of the estate began to be sold. By the time his daughter Cornelia King, the last family member to reside in the home, died in 1896, only eleven acres remained.

The Village of Jamaica purchased the house and land the following year, its last official act before becoming part of New York City. The land was intended to be used as a public park, but there was debate as to what should be done with the structure. In 1900 a group of women created the King Manor Association of Long Island, Inc. with the goal of preserving the house as a museum.

Women’s clubs were part of an important movement allowing women to venture outside their homes during the last of the nineteenth century
and into the following one. The creation and upkeep of historic
house museums, being recreated domestic settings, were particularly popular (and seemingly appropriate) activities for club women. In such institutions, women could publicly act out their twin nineteenth-century roles of republican mother and key figure in the cult of domesticity. The founders of the KMA were members of various cultural, civic, and patriotic organizations, and KMM itself acted as a meeting site for these groups in addition to its role as a museum.

The historic preservation movement and the colonial revival during this time illustrate the American public’s interest in its past. Numerous changes in the lives of Americans fueled a desire to reflect upon a seemingly simpler, more noble time. Popular culture, including books, plays, parades, and exhibitions, was infused with all things “colonial.” KMM, the first historic house museum in Queens and only the second in New York City, also sought to display this idealized past in its period rooms.

Two years prior to the founding of the KMA, Queens had been annexed by New York City. Consolidation was not universally popular, and many borough residents held a nostalgic view of their former small-town lives. The Association, made up solely of women from Long Island and whose name stressed its Long Island - rather than New York City - perspective, sought to remind museum visitors of the region’s independent past.

This thesis also presents biographical sketches of each of the fifteen signers of the KMA’s certificate of incorporation. They include suffragette and community activist Mary Craigie, domestic history author Alice Morse Earle, and club leader and businesswoman Caroline Goldsmith Childs. Through their backgrounds, interests, and activities, we may see KMM from its founders’ perspective.