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Built between 1858-1860, Victoria Mansion is a National Historic Landmark in Portland, ME, known widely for its architecture and stunning intact interiors. The question of who “built” Victoria Mansion tends to surface the same few names: Henry Austin, the architect, Gustave Herter and Giuseppe Guidicini, the interior designers, and Ruggles and Olive Morse, who commissioned the house and its contents. Ruggles Morse amassed a fortune as a proprietor of luxury hotels, in part at the expense of enslaved labor in New Orleans. Ongoing research has led Mansion staff to discover more than two dozen enslaved Black and mixed-race individuals who had been purchased and/or sold by the Morses.
In 2021, Victoria Mansion launched the Unwilling Architects Initiative, through which Mansion staff endeavors to learn more about and interpret the lives of the individuals who were impacted by the Morses’ decisions and who unwillingly assisted in underwriting the construction of this palatial Portland mansion. Join Victoria Mansion staff member Brittany Cook and DEI consultant Anisa Khadraoui for a discussion about conducting research into histories that occurred offsite, placing the mansion in the greater context of the United States in the 19th century, faithfully interpreting narratives for historically underrepresented and excluded populations, and how new research impacts and informs the everyday interpretation at a small historic house museum.
Funding for The Unwilling Architects Initiative has been provided by The Maine Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
This virtual program is free, but registration is required and limited. Click here to register.