The Ursuline refectory table, the oldest documented piece of Louisiana-made furniture, has more than a religious meaning; the table is a shared space representative of the nuns' dedication to impart their knowledge and educate young women. The drawers open from both sides of the table, meaning that two women seated across from each other would have used the same drawer for silverware, table linens, and personal objects. This table allows us to see the meek and communal lifestyle of the religious order. In addition to sharing with each other, the Ursulines also shared their vision of an educated colony with the community. They focused on educating young women and children, but they also took in orphans and other community members, regardless of wealth, social status, or race. The nuns believed that education starts in the home with mothers, and if mothers were to be entrusted with the task of teaching their children, they too had to learn; so, women and young girls learned how to read and write, regardless of their background.
To me, this table is more than an artifact from the early years of New Orleans. It is a teaching tool used to remind the Ursulines of their commitment to helping others and educating the community. The Ursulines used the table within their living space, but its effects were felt beyond the convent walls. It is because the Ursulines shared their space with each other every day that they were able to go out and share their time, religious views, and knowledge with a community in need. The entire populace, not just the women and children, benefitted from the Ursulines' dedication to literacy, education, and public service. I see this table as a visual reminder of both the power of education and the power of women working together toward a common goal.
Citation 1: 
between 1725 and 1750; walnut, cypress, and poplar
Citation 2: 
EL3.1990, extended loan courtesy of Robert Edward Judice
Sarah McKenney, Education Assistant