Artifact Corner: Victorian Hair Broach

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a lovely little piece of jewelry, a brooch. This brooch is unique because it contains the hair of two of our family members. Frances Henrietta Delord and her husband Henry Livingston Webb, who died twelve years apart. Their marriage was cut short by Frances Henrietta’s tragic death at the age of just twenty. Henry Webb survived her for more than a decade, but never remarried, and continued to morn the loss of his wife. Let’s learn a bit more about the love story of Frances and Henry.

In May of 1832, 18 year old Frances Henrietta was visiting friends and family in Albany. Her letters home to her mother repeatedly mention a Mr. Webb, saying, “Mr. Webb has been quite attentive and polite, and has been often to see me.” In another letter she states, “As Saturday evening got somewhat advanced, I was reading, very sleepy, my hair really looked frightful, when there was a ring at the door. Who should I behold but Mr. W. He brought me a work on Revivals.” The two were engaged by July, and Frances returned home to plan the wedding. The two wrote each other constantly with Henry calling Frances “my beloved French girl,” in his letters. By August of that year, the two were married in the Gold Parlor room of our home. They went of a glorious honeymoon in Europe, traveling home in the Fall of 1833. By this point it was clear that Frances was pregnant with their first child. Their daughter, who they also named Frances, was born on February 11th, 1834. Henry Webb writes in a letter as to his wife’s condition following the birth of their child, “I regret to state that Frances is not so well. For the last two days she has been very weak. We have been extremely anxious about her.” The doctor’s who attended her informed Henry that Frances was suffering from child bed fever, an infection brought on due to unsanitary birthing conditions. Frances Henrietta suffered for three weeks before dying at the age of just 20 years old. Henry writes “I take my pen with a heavy heart. My wife is no more.” Frances Henrietta was buried in Albany, and Henry dealt with the grief as best he could.

Henry remained in Albany until 1844 when his health began to decline. He decided to move back to the family farm in Wethers eld CT where his sisters had been raising his daughter Fannie. He sold his store in Albany, and settled down in CT. His health fluctuated in the next two years, but in October of 1846, his condition took a drastic turn, as explained in a letter his daughter wrote to her grandmother, Betsy. “Oh, my dear grandmother, what an awful scene was before us. The Dr. bled him very freely & for a few moments we had some hope of his life. But in about an hour & a half from the time he was first attacked he breathed his last at 1 o’clock. Every thing was done that could be imagined, warm water and drafts to his feet, mustard on his chest etc. but all in vain. His appointed hour had come & we humbly hope this blessed spirit is united to my sainted mother & they are happy with their God.” Henry died on October 12th, 1846 at the age of 51. He was buried in the family plot, next to his beloved wife Frances Henrietta.

Hair jewelry was a very common adornment for the grieving Victorians. The life expectancy during this period was between 33 to 40 years of age for the average person. People in the early to mid 1800’s were far more familiar with people passing away young than we are today. One way to keep a person close to you, was to have some memento that you could possess or even wear. Hair brooches were so common in this period because you could wear a treasured piece of a loved one pinned close to your heart. You can see on the back of the brooch the engraving states Frances and Henry’s names and the dates of their deaths. We don’t know exactly who this brooch belonged to but it was obviously a family member. Frances and Henry’s hair is forever entwined, which is fitting given that they had so little time together. This brooch is in beautiful condition, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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