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Private Spaces in Public Places

Comfort Stations, Fitting Rooms, Public Baths, and Locker Rooms in America, 1880–1930

Laura Walikainen Rouleau

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A unique history of how private spaces in public—such as public restrooms and dressing rooms—developed in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.

Before the late nineteenth century, Americans bathed, dressed, undressed, and relieved themselves in the privacy of their own homes. Yet from 1880 to 1930, the social forces of urbanization, industrialization, and immigration combined to increasingly lure Americans out of the private realm and into the public sphere. In Private Spaces in Public Places, Laura W. Rouleau offers a distinctive look at the history of how new private spaces...

A unique history of how private spaces in public—such as public restrooms and dressing rooms—developed in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.

Before the late nineteenth century, Americans bathed, dressed, undressed, and relieved themselves in the privacy of their own homes. Yet from 1880 to 1930, the social forces of urbanization, industrialization, and immigration combined to increasingly lure Americans out of the private realm and into the public sphere. In Private Spaces in Public Places, Laura W. Rouleau offers a distinctive look at the history of how new private spaces were built into the broader world.

In deciding what physical form these spaces would take, the very meaning of privacy manifested through the physical and social construction of these newly emerging spaces. Rouleau combines social history with a material culture–based analysis to examine the growing importance and physical development of spaces such as department store dressing rooms, school locker rooms, and public bathrooms that emerged during this era.

Rouleau argues that privacy was physically and socially constructed, as these sites were designed to segregate users by gender, class, race, and age. Creators of these spaces sought to impose their middle-class values regarding privacy through the physical regulation of users' bodies. Nonetheless, the creators' intentions did not always align with the lived reality of these spaces. By interrogating how people navigated these private spaces, this study offers an understanding of the actual historical experience of privacy at the turn of the twentieth century.

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Reviews

Uncovers the historical roots of our contemporary ideas of privacy, exposing how the architecture of new spaces like locker rooms and department-store changing rooms created privacy through exclusions based not only on gender but also on race, class, and age. A deft interweaving of social and architectural history makes us question our assumptions about the need for privacy and what privacy is.

Focusing on fitting rooms, public baths, comfort stations, and locker rooms, Laura Rouleau grapples with public privacy as an essential spatial and social construct of modern life. In doing so, she invites readers to rethink the public/private divide and contextualizes contemporary debates about how bodies both demand and subvert efforts to create privacy in public.

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Book Details

Release Date
Publication Date
Status
Preorder
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
144
ISBN
9781421449999
Illustration Description
29 b&w photos, 21 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Department Store Fitting Rooms: A Gendered Privacy
3. Public Baths: Cleansing the "Classed" Body
4. Creating Privacy in Public: Public Comfort Stations
5. Learning Privacy: Public

1. Introduction
2. Department Store Fitting Rooms: A Gendered Privacy
3. Public Baths: Cleansing the "Classed" Body
4. Creating Privacy in Public: Public Comfort Stations
5. Learning Privacy: Public School Locker Rooms
Conclusion
Acknowledgements

Author Bio
Laura Walikainen Rouleau
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Laura Walikainen Rouleau

Laura Walikainen Rouleau is an associate teaching professor of history in the social sciences department at Michigan Technological University. She received her PhD in the History of American Civilization from the University of Delaware, as well as a master’s degree from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.