Rest Rooms: What a Great Idea!

7 Jun

An 1895 issue of Golden Rule magazine included an article about working women that caught Isabella Alden’s attention.

Clerks examining newly-printed money at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 1904.

Clerks examining newly-printed money at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 1904.

Here’s what she shared on the Christian Endeavor page of her own magazine later that year:

“REST ROOMS.”

The Golden Rule suggests a beautiful idea. It advocates the renting and furnishing, in large towns and cities, of what it calls Rest Rooms, for the use of working-girls during the noon hour. It proposes pretty furnishings, lounges, easy chairs, books, papers, pleasant games, etc. It also suggests that a small fee might be charged for the use of the room, because most girls would prefer to pay a little each week towards its expenses. The thought is certainly an important one. Let all the Endeavorers talk it up. Why could not a neat plain restaurant or lunch room be added, where coffee, and. sandwiches, and milk, and cookies, and crackers, and fruits might be had at very low prices?

Many working-girls now have such dreary places in which to eat their lunches and such dreary lunches to eat, that it would seem as though improvements were needed here.

Workers labeling and wrapping perfums and soaps, 1900.

Workers labeling and wrapping perfums and soaps, 1900.

Isabella’s description of a ladies’ rest room doesn’t sound at all like the cold, utilitarian washrooms we know today; but back in 1985, it was an idea whose time had come. Workers had few rights; they worked long hours under sometimes difficult conditions. Employers could give workers as many—or as few—breaks during the work day as they wanted.

Members of a typing pool with their male supervisor.

Members of a typing pool with their male supervisor.

So the idea of a rest room for workers was somewhat revolutionary, and it quickly caught on.

The ladies' lunch room at the National Cash Register Company, 1902.

The ladies’ lunch room at the National Cash Register Company, 1902. From Shorpy Archive.

Progressive and far-thinking employers recognized the benefits of providing a dedicated rest room to their employees:

From the Arizona Republican, 1920.

From the Arizona Republican, 1920.

In some towns, Women’s Trade Unions or the YWCA repurposed space to create rest rooms for female workers.

Telephone operators enjoying their rest room, 1906.

Telephone operators enjoying their rest room, 1906.

And in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the city took the initiative to furnish a dedicated room for the use of “strangers, tired shoppers, and working girls.”

From the Tulsa Daily World, 1915.

From the Tulsa Daily World, 1915.

The concept of a rest room proved so popular, businesses began offering dedicated ladies’ rest rooms to customers, as well.

Newspaper ad for Lansburgh & Bro. department store in Washington DC, 1918.

Newspaper ad for Lansburgh & Bro. department store in Washington DC, 1918.

And by the 1920s, companies listed rest rooms for female workers as a benefit when trying to recruit new employees.

Want ad in the Democratic Advocate newspaper, College Park, Maryland, 1920.

Want ad in the Democratic Advocate newspaper, College Park, Maryland, 1920.

What began as a germ of an idea in 1895 became a wide-spread reality in the 20th century as retailers, factories, and municipalities established clean, comfortable restrooms for workers, customers, and visitors.

The ladies' lounge at E. M. Bigsby department store, Detroit, Michigan, 1915.

The ladies’ lounge at E. M. Bigsby department store, Detroit, Michigan, 1915.

You can read more about women’s working conditions during Isabella’s lifetime by viewing these previous posts:

Lady Entrepreneurs

This Woman’s Work

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The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Author Jenny Berlin

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Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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