On the Water

French Horsehair Trunk

This horsehair-covered trunk has a domed top, iron straps, loop handles, and two iron latches. The initials R and D are stenciled onto the ends, and the number 10 appears beneath the handles. The trunk was brought from France in 1881 by an unknown Dominican sister when she joined a group of four nuns from Oullins, France. They had established a strictly cloistered life at Newark, New Jersey, the previous year, having been invited to the United States by the archbishop of New York.

Their religious observances included rising at midnight for Matins and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as abstinence, fasting, sleeping on board beds, and enduring the cold. After two years, the community of Dominican sisters numbered fifteen. In April 1884, the group moved to a new home at the Monastery of Saint Dominic, in Newark, and within nine years, all 47 rooms in the new monastery were occupied.

This trunk remained at the monastery until 1974, when it was purchased by the Smithsonian as an example of immigration, faith, and shared experiences in the United States. It was displayed in the Museum’s Bicentennial exhibition, A Nation of Nations, from 1976 to 1988.

ID Number:
Place Made:
wood, paint, metal, tin, paper, skin, hide, horsehair, metal, iron
18.1102 x 44.0945 x 20.4724 in.; 46 x 112 x 52 cm

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