The Dining Room: Introducing the Wylie Women

Three Wylie Women: A Generation of Late Nineteenth-Century Mothers
As you explore the exhibit, click on images to learn more about the artifacts and to read full transcriptions and view full-size scans of the letters.
The Dining Room

The tour continues to the dining room of the Wylie House, a space of gathering. In this multi-purpose room, the family would have shared meals, study, and leisure. However, these activities extended beyond the family, as the space was used alongside student boarders and visitors. The presence of boarders, paying for the domestic labor of mothers, contradicts women’s advice that promoted selfless work for the good of the home and family. The intermingling of family and outsiders further defines the home as both public and private, complicating the ideal of the “woman’s sphere” yet again.

Theophilus & Rebecca Wylie

Theophilus and Rebecca Wylie

The Theophilus and Rebecca Wylie Family

In 1859, the family of Theophilus and Rebecca Wylie moved into the Wylie House. Among other roles, Dr. Wylie was a college professor at Indiana University and a Presbyterian minister (For more information on the professional life of Theophilus A. Wylie view the Wylie House's online exhibit, Leadership at Indiana University: Andrew and Theophilus Wylie, 1820-1890.) The couple had eight children, six of whom lived to adulthood. Theophilus died on June 9, 1895. Rebecca continued to live at the house until June 11, 1914, when she passed at the age of 101. The exhibit focuses on the couple’s two eldest daughters, Margaret and Louisa, and daughter-in-law, Seabrook. These women's families represent the continuation of the Wylies as none of Theophilus and Rebecca's other children had children of their own. 

Elizabeth Louisa Wylie Boisen

Margaret Wylie Mellette

Sarah Seabrook Mitchell Wylie

Extended Mothers: The Many “Mothers” of the Wylie Children

Louisa Wylie Boisen to Hermann B. Boisen, 02 May 1875

"It seems as if this dear little child brings us all closer together. It belongs to us all.” - Louisa Wylie Boisen, May 2, 1875

The three mother’s reliance on their familial, female relations to share the emotions and tasks of childrearing exemplifies the strong, emotional bonds between women at this time, while also indicating a departure from a maternal ideal that situated the biological mother as the sole moral educator and caretaker of her children. “Extended mothering” serves as an important thread between the maternal lives of the Wylie women. Like many women of their time, Louisa, Maggie, and Seabrook relied on one another and the support of a larger circle of female family and friends to fulfill their maternal responsibilities. A letter from an expectant Louisa to her husband, Hermann, on May 2, 1875 exemplifies these feelings of shared mothering. She wrote,

“It seems as if this dear little child brings us all closer together. It belongs to us all.”

Examples of “extended mothers” and motherly support appear throughout the family letters, as women write to one another seeking assistance, advice, friendship, and understanding.

Rebecca Dennis Wylie 

Susan Emma Dennis, “Aunt Emma”

Elizabeth Breckenridge

Confused on who's who? Take a look at the Family Relationship Chart at the end of this exhibit.

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