Okay, so this isn't about guinea pigs...but it is about pets.
There's a nifty virtual exhibit called Pets in America that looks at the role of pets in American households -- and in American society in general -- through photos, memorabilia, early veterinary equipment, vintage pet supply packaging, early accessories, toys, and cages, and much more. One of the photos in the collection is this sweet picture, circa 1900, of an older woman and her pet rabbit.
It was in the 1800s that Americans increasingly brought pets into their homes as companions -- actually, as full-fledged family members. Not only was pet ownership associated with social status and leisure time, says the exhibit, but it was also associated with a happy family life. For those of us involved with small animals, we learn:
By the 1860s, rabbits, white mice, rats, and guinea pigs were considered perfect "children's pets." They were gentle, easy to care for and short-lived. Squirrels were also popular. Captured from the wild, they were sold in pet stores until around 1910. New rodent species have been introduced as pets periodically. In the 1950s, for example, the hamster became the new pet craze.
The virtual exhibit features photo albums, video clips, and audio clips, and a number of activities for kids. Much of the text should be accessible to students in the fifth or sixth grade, but parents can likely find ways to spend some enjoyable time looking at all the photos with younger children.
The exhibit opened at the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina in 2005, and is scheduled to tour through 2008. The National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts, will be hosting the exhibit from April 1 through October 14 of this year.