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.