This Federal-style mansion was built by slaves and free people of color between 1830 and 1831 for the family of Samuel Hermann. The Christian Women's Exchange acquired the property in the 1920s and used operated a boarding house for single, low-income women until the 1970s when it was converted into a house museum. The same charitable organization operates the museum, although they changed their name to the Women's Exchange in 1998 to emphasize their desire to serve women of all backgrounds and faiths. The museum tells the story of the people who built, lived, and worked in this home over the past two centuries. It also preserves and shares historic furnishings and artwork representative of New Orleans in the 19th century.
Backstory and Context
Established in 1881, the Christian Women's Exchange served as a service organization that sought to meet the needs of women-from widows and poor women to the middle-class members and leaders of the organization. The organization raised funds through creating and selling handmade items, holding special events, and also also sold used clothing and household items through consignment shops. The Proceeds from these activities allowed them to operate boarding houses for single women as well as dining rooms and social spaces for middle-class women negotiating a male-controlled city.
During New Orleans' World Fair of 1884, the newly-formed organization operated a nursery that allowed working mothers to attend the fair. The organization continued to focus on economic support for working and single women, as well as educational and cultural opportunities for members, throughout the late 19th and 20th century. During the 1970s, as many of the historic buildings in New Orleans faced demolition, the organization worked with other community groups to support historic preservation. As part of that mission, the Women's Exchange operates two museums- the Gallier House and this historic house museum.
The Hermann family, which built the home in 1831, moved to New Orleans in 1813 and lived in the house until 1844. Samuel Hermann sold the house to Felix Grima after losing most of the family fortune when the English cotton market crashed in 1837. The Hermann family stayed in the French Quarter and Samuel died in 1851. Felix Grima was born in New Orleans in 1798 and he and his family lived in the house until 1921. It was then purchased by the Christian Women's Exchange in 1924.
It was converted into a period museum in the 1970s and also features the slave quarters, an extant stable and a restored courtyard complete with a parterre garden that features fig and citrus trees. Within the home one will find authentic as well as reconstructed period pieces, of which, about one-third belonged to either the Hermann or Grima families. Original pieces include the mahogany dining room table and sideboard, various family portraits and numerous books from Felix Grima's library that can be viewed in his restored office. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
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Walker, Erin. ""Christian Women's Exchange, (1881- )." KnowLA: Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Edited by David Johnson. September 15, 2011. Accessed February 2, 2017. http://www.knowla.org/entry/871/