2018 Collections Selections

In the Nursery

A Collections Selections exhibition
  • Dates:
    Jan 20 - Jul 15 2018
  • Ages:
    All ages.

This past exhibition was on view from January 20-June 15, 2018.

Collections Selections is an ongoing series of exhibitions featuring rotations of artifacts from the Historical Society’s collections. Each iteration is organized around a theme.

In tandem with the premier traveling exhibition TOYTOPIA, Collections Selections: In the Nursery builds on the theme of play. Step into a turn-of-the-century nursery recreation, with period wallpaper, historic photographs and artwork, and toys and furnishings that represent what you might have seen in the children’s room of a Washington home in the early 1900s.

The Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s changed the focus of western society from agriculture and handmade goods to factories, machines, and industry, creating a middle class that had not existed prior to this era. Playrooms like this one reflected the emergence of this middle class during the 1800s, and Americans’ changing ideas about childhood.

Families began to see childhood as a time for education and play, rather than work, and toys and play were now viewed as an important part of a child’s development. Rocking horses allowed children to mimic riding horseback, while tea sets and dolls provided an opportunity to practice social skills that they would use in adulthood.

This was most apparent in the “nursery,” a room in the house for small children. During the turn of the 19th century, the nursery was often a combination of bedroom, playroom, and schoolhouse. Wealthy children had a “day” nursery for education and play, and a “night” nursery to sleep in. Middle-class children had one nursery for both beds and furniture that was often shared among many siblings. By the turn of the 20th century, this room was often referred to as the children’s playroom. Nurseries still exist in the form of playrooms and bedrooms—play places that children can call their own.