Mina Edison was known in her day as the model homemaker. But a historian believes the wife of the great inventor Thomas Edison was much more complex.
Katie Hobbs, who works at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ, is rewriting the narrative of Mina in a new tour centered around her ever-changing attitudes about a woman’s role in the home. It will be available this summer at Glenmont, Edison’s former 29-room mansion in Llewellyn Park, and will be announced on the Thomas Edison National Historic Park website.
The definitions of womanhood changed rapidly from the time Mina first moved to Glenmont in 1886, remaining there until her death in 1947. Mina didn’t live up to the figure of conservatism that publications portrayed her as — often pitting her against feminist trailblazers like Eleanor Roosevelt. While it is true that Mina saw the home as the “spiritual center,” she was also willing to embrace ideas of female independence, Hobbs said.
“We can see her grappling with this bigger cultural shift and holding on to these older structures while working on some new things,” Hobbs, a history professor at Berkeley College, said at a recent lecture.
While at Glenmont, visitors can also see Mina’s flower garden, which was painstakingly recreated by the Master Gardeners of Essex County. “Everything has to be historically correct,” said Kathy Ludwig, a master gardener, who said the National Park Services kept all the records from when the Edisons lived here, including the plant species handpicked by Mina.
Purple agastache, white bearded irises, and of course, Mina’s beloved roses surround the 29-room, Queen Anne-style mansion once again. Perhaps most impressive — but infamously tedious — are the King Humbert cannas, which grow six feet tall and have rose-red blooms throughout summer and fall. That beauty comes with a price though. Each fall, they must be cut before the first frost, cleaned of all dirt, wrapped in newspaper, and stored in a dry, dark place until spring. “We take care of them like babies in the winter,” said Nancy Elder, also a master gardener.
Today, the garden is a loving tribute to a woman who was coaxed away from city life to the quiet Glenmont home, where she could indulge her green thumb. “Mina didn’t want to move here from New York City,” Elder said. “But as long as she could tend the garden, she was fine with it.”