The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities

By Dolores Hayden | Go to book overview

11 Homes without Kitchens and Towns without Housework

Charlotte Perkins Gilman popularized the ideal of efficient, collective kitchens, laundries, and child care centers which removed women's traditional tasks from the private home. The organizers of dining clubs and cooked food delivery services, who attempted to carry these ideas out in practice represent one group of reformers who came under Gilman's broad influence. Architects and urban planners are another.

Like the organizers of dining clubs and cooked food services, the architects and urban planners who became interested in socializing domestic work had to deal with economic, social, and physical reorganization. What economic arrangements were necessary to build housing designed for greater sharing of domestic tasks? Could new household services be provided within a landlord-tenant relationship, on a commercial basis? Or was it necessary for residents to control the ownership of their own housing collectively in order for them to control the reorganization and cost of domestic work? Another set of related questions concerned the design of the housing itself. On what scale should designers attempt to organize housing units for socialized domestic work? A few families? Or a few dozen families? Or a few hundred? Or a few thousand?

The architects and planners who chose to grapple with these issues between 1900 and 1930 were not usually doubtful or cautious by nature. They tended to see themselves as creating, for the first time, truly modern housing, in response to the needs of twentieth century women and their families. But these professionals, who represented the avant-garde in their fields (in social terms if not in aesthetic terms), reached relatively little agreement about what this modern housing should be, in comparison to the designers active between 1870 and 1900 who had almost all agreed that the apartment house or apartment hotel was the building type for household liberation.

Urban and suburban development had contributed to this disarray. Earlier reformers had been able to make bold comparisons between the isolated single-family house in the country or city and the adjacent dwelling units gathered in one large urban apartment house, concluding that the evolution of human habitations was inevitably linked to the apartment house as the larger and more complex building type. By the early decades of the twentieth century, this argument had lost its edge. Apartment houses with extensive collective services were inhabited only by a few affluent families, and the technology of central heating and electric light which had been pioneered in these buildings was more readily available to all types of middle-class homes. Although some reformers, such as Lewis Mumford, maintained in 1914 that "the cooking community will be a product of the city" and argued that "the apartment house stands there, waiting for the metamorphosis," 11 other reformers had turned their attention

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