The vast majority of objects housed at the James Monroe Museum are part of the Laurence Gouverneur Hoes Collection, named for one of the co-founders of the museum, and its first director. The object collections include over 1,600 artifacts ranging from personal items such as jewelry and clothing, to fine arts, to decorative arts such as furniture and china. Most of the objects placed in the museum by Rose and Laurence Hoes in 1927 descended through James Monroe’s youngest daughter, Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur and her children. Here we present just a few of our most impressive items.
Irish Lap Harp, JM76.238
During her time in France, Monroe’s oldest daughter, Eliza, attended a boarding school in St. Germaine-en-Laye outside of Paris. Monroe wrote to his daughter often and in those letters he often encouraged her to learn useful skills and attend to her studies. In one particular piece of correspondence, written while Monroe was in Spain, he specifically mentions that learning to play the harp would be a worthwhile pursuit, saying, “My dear child…Don’t forget among all your useful acquirements the comparatively trivial one of playing and singing several airs on the harp; I will get you one in Paris. That is an accomplishment that will be really useful to you .” The apparent result of that letter was this beautiful lap harp of an Irish design, purchased in France by James Monroe for his daughter.
We have long told our visitors about Elizabeth Monroe’s mysterious illness, which was often mentioned in her husband’s correspondence, but was never identified. In more recent years, some have guessed that she might have suffered from epilepsy, or that perhaps she had some sort of blood disorder that caused her frequent headaches, fainting spells, and “fits.” Whatever the illness was, it plagued Elizabeth Monroe for years, and often led to her inability to conduct the duties expected of the President’s wife. In her final months of life, her condition deteriorated rapidly, and her doctor recommended that she be bled, in order to remove toxins from her body. We believe she was bled on three occasions during those last days, and we can only speculate that the bleedings hastened her death, rather than held it off. This little spring-loaded lancet is believed to be the instrument which Dr. Scott used to bleed Mrs. Monroe. It is pictured here with its tiny carrying case.