The Grand Tour began as a rite of passage for wealthy young men during the 17th and 18th centuries. Touring the continent, especially France, Italy, and Greece, the young men were accompanied by “bearleaders” whose duties included tutoring, troubleshooting, and tying up the loose ends left by their “bears.”
In the 19th century, the Grand Tour became a chance to shop the latest trends in fashion, home decor, and art. The moneyed class returned home ready to captivate their friends with stories of foreign adventures while displaying an extravagant number of souvenirs.
Literary minded travelers often chronicled and published their own accounts of their time abroad. Famous Grand Tourists include Sir Francis Bacon (Of Travel, 1625), Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Mark Twain (The Innocents Abroad, 1869), and Louisa May Alcott (Shawl-Straps, 1895).
Franklina Carolina Gray was, in many ways, not your typical Victorian lady. Born in 1854, she grew up in an extended “Old Virginia” family under the guidance of her mother Matilda, grandmother Sarah, and Aunt Rose. Her father, Franklin Gray, had committed suicide five months before her birth. Though he left her a substantial estate, legal entanglements delayed its distribution until she was an adult.
In 1873, 19-year-old Franklina and her mother moved from the bustling town of Brooklyn, New York, to the comparatively small town of Oakland, California. Matilda Gray had agreed to marry the fabulously wealthy San Francisco business magnate David Hewes. Though Franklina lamented the loss of lifelong friends on the East Coast, she soon met and became engaged to William Springer Bartlett, a young banker.
Her move to California proved even more positive for Franklina when Hewes offered to include her and Aunt Rose in a two-year honeymoon tour of Europe. Franklina had wanted to visit Europe “since I opened my first Geography.” Her classical education at the prestigious Patapsco Female Institute outside Baltimore emphasized Western history and culture, and the sciences. Franklina was overjoyed despite having to leave her fiancé behind.
In June of 1875, the Hewes family set forth for their Grand Tour. Thanks to the kind generosity of her great-granddaughters, Franklina's journals and hundreds of letters home have survived. These writings provide the basis for this exhibit and shine a light on this adventurous, intellectual, and witty woman.
(Pictured: A young Franklina C. Gray, prior to her Grand Tour. Franklina was a teenager at the time of this photograph. Camron-Stanford House Collection, Gift of Tracey Bartlett, 2018.)
Making a Victorian Vacation
Franklina Gray's story is remarkable in itself. She was a talented and witty writer. She was adventurous and always looking forward to the next new experience. We're lucky to have her writings as they offer a woman's first-hand account of what was typically a wealthy male rite of passage (The Grand Tour). Resources like these are valuable because diverse narratives give us access to a much broader perspective.
While Franklina does give us an opportunity to explore Grand Tours from a new angle, hers is still a relatively sheltered and entirely privileged perspective. For that reason it is important to consider all the work that went into making her lifestyle possible. Luckily, Franklina does frequently take note of the working class people around her that shaped and facilitated her Grand Tour, which we will explore throughout this exhibit.
(Pictured: German Tourists at the crater of Mount Vesuvius, Giorgio Sommer (1834-1912). When faced with an uphill climb, Franklina was always up for the adventure. However, Matilda and Aunt Rose often opted to be carried in chairs like the woman pictured here.)
This exhibit is divided into seven thematic parts. Each page presents Franklina's experience and opinions on a given theme; then, where possible, explores how someone from another class may have experienced the same subject.
Camron Stanford House, 2021 www.cshouse.org