Based on the size of the group and the number of chaperones, divide the students into small groups. Since the rooms are so small, groups of 3, each with an adult chaperone, would work well.
Give each chaperone or group leader the following questions to explore in either the men's or women's quarters.
- Walk into the room. How does it feel? How does it look? How does it smell?
- What would it be like if 10 men or women lived in this room? 20? (At one time about 60 enslaved workers lived in these rooms.)
- Imagine yourself living in this room with 10 other men or women. How might it affect your sense of self?
- Now close your eyes. Imagine the sounds of the farm. What do you hear?
- Imagine it is winter. How do you feel? (The fire for the greenhouse was also used to heat the slave quarters.)
Have the groups meet together at the end of the lane (outside Martha Washington's room, which is in a "new," rather than a restored historic building). Allow the groups to share some of their experiences. If the students have already visited the mansion, ask them to compare the slave quarters to the rooms in the house.
- To what extent did Washington treat his slaves fairly? unfairly.
- The living quarters at the Mansion House Farm were the best on the estate. (If time allows, students can visit a slave quarter on the Pioneer Farm, down by the wharf.) How do the slave quarters on the Pioneer Farm compare?
The Mount Vernon Ladies Association is planning a new permanent exhibit on the enslaved people of Mount Vernon in the museum at the Education Center. Updates will be provided as the exhibit becomes a reality.