Gender Segregation By Victorian Design

Homes have always illustrated a great deal about those who inhabit them.  And changes in architectural design reflect much more than simply new techniques and styles.  They also reflect changing relationships between groups of people.  Victorian architecture is famous for a number of things, but one of my favorites is the notion that rooms really ought to only have one purpose.*  One of my favorite ways that this is illustrated is by highlighting the lack of a bedside table in most bedrooms in the 1800s in England.  Reading (or anything else for that matter) was an activity that was best undertaken in a separate (and more appropriate) room of its own.

To accomplish this, larger houses had an extraordinary number of rooms.  Smaller houses were forced to shift furniture around depending on what was going on that particular day.  While one of the premises of modern architectural design involves breaking down walls and opening up space, the Victorians were much more concerned with erecting walls and closing spaces off.  There are all sorts of remnants of this time still present in homes today – though they are often put to separate use.  For instance, parlors are still present in many homes.  They’re typically small rooms near the front of the house where household guests would have congregated, and within which Victorian forms of courtship took place (see Bailey on courtship here).  But few of us use these spaces as they were originally intended.  They feel impractical by today’s standards.

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