by Erin Carlson Mast
President Lincoln’s Cottage was outfitted with a bell pull system by the time the Lincolns came to live there in the 1860s. Last October evidence of the bell system was uncovered in the Cottage. Additional evidence of the old system—pipes in which the pull wires ran—was found two weeks ago during ongoing restoration work.
According to an 1864 bill of sale, Mary Lincoln purchased 2 silk bell pulls a couple months before they moved to the Cottage in 1864, so it’s reasonable to assume they used the bell system to call on household staff.
Who would have responded to their calls for assistance? We know the Lincolns employed several people to work for them at the Soldiers’ Home, including William Slade, Mary Williams, and Mary Cuthbert. Sometimes their staff commuted with them from the Soldiers’ Home to the White House.
Ms. Erin Mast is the curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.