Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site has a large museum collection consisting of thousands of objects, many of which are not regularly displayed in the house's furnished exhibit rooms. Every month, an object will be featured on this page, providing a look at an unusual piece from the collection.
Most people today might have never seen or used an object of the type pictured above, but for many fashion-conscious 19th century women this piece would have been an important accessory. It is a glove stretcher.
Glove stretchers were widely used during this period because of the popularity of women's kid leather gloves, although stretchers were used for men's gloves as well. These gloves were generally very tight fitting, and the wearer often needed aid from a mechanical device to put them on. The glove stretcher worked by placing the narrow end into a glove finger and then squeezing the handle, thereby expanding the two halves of the narrow end and stretching the glove finger wider apart. They were also useful in maintaining the overall shape of kid leather gloves, which when washed were prone to wrinkling and could turn quite stiff.
This particular glove stretcher is made of two wooden arms connected with a turned peg that has an almost spherical center. Other materials used to make glove stretchers include silver, ivory, and bone. This stretcher also features a metal spring that keeps the narrow end of the two arms together while not in use. The metal spring is an indicator that the stretcher likely dates to the late 19th or early 20th century, and may have belonged to one of the Longfellow daughters. In fact, the stretcher is visible in a 1917 photograph of one of the bedroom interiors in the Longfellow home, during Alice Longfellow's residency. It is still on display there today.