Daylight-saving time wasn’t a part of American life until the late 19th century, but that didn’t mean it was easy for people in the 18th century to guestimate whether it was dinnertime or not. Growling stomachs are notorious culprits for fast-forwarding internal clocks.
How did the many guests who joined the Washingtons for a meal know that it was time to eat? Luckily the family was in possession of a dinner bell. This 17th-century bell that (according to tradition) had belonged to George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, was used to call people across the estate to the table. Most large plantations had a similar bell that gave a resounding clang and likely elicited not just a little Pavlovian salivating. At Mount Vernon the blaring sound of a large dinner bell meant the meal would be served in 15 minutes.
Mary Ball Washington’s dinner bell can be seen in our Donald W. Reynolds Museum at our new Hoecakes & Hospitality exhibit, which is on display through August 11, 2013.
Assistant Curator Alison Bliss contributed to this report.
Object Spotlight is a regular feature that highlights household belongings used by the Washingtons. Check out Mount Vernon’s eMuseum to explore more Washington-related objects.
Gift of Frank Waters, 1912 [W-822A-C]