A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

D is for Domestic

Nineteenth-century reformers understood the order of the domestic space as a means to transform social relations. In his utopian vision outlined in The Human Drift (1894), US businessman (and inventor of the safety razor) King Camp Gillette presented the three-level megacity, ‘Metropolis’, at Niagara Falls. Deriving its energy from hydro-power, Metropolis would be comprised of ‘mammoth apartment houses or hotels, and be free from all the annoyances of housekeeping’. Each building would be circular, and rationally laid out with walks and gardens to ensure ‘a city that is a beautiful park throughout its whole extent’. Gillette provided a floor plan of an apartment, in which some of the city’s 60 million inhabitants would reside – bedrooms with ensuites, sitting rooms, a library and music room, as well as a parlour and verandah, ‘all on a liberal scale’. Another businessman, Bradford Peck, published in 1900 The World a Department Store, a novel set in the ‘Coöperative City’ of 1925. Residents of this city enjoyed parkways and gardens around ‘magnificent’ apartment houses, with their interiors resembling Gillette’s orderly vision.  

Satirists also envisioned alternative modes of living. Inspired by the transcontinental railroad of the United States, the 1888 parody, The Golden Age of Patents, imagined living on board the ‘World-on-Wheels Special’. Passengers could enjoy fresh vegetables from the ‘garden-sass car’ and produce from the ‘barn-yard car’; shopping and sports; a laundry service and bathing car; and finally, the ‘divorce drawing-room car’ – all possible by the ‘close of the next century’. Later, in 1909, American Carpenter and Builder’s Wilbur envisioned ‘summer houses of the future’, ideal for the ‘Wright Brothers or for the man who would get far from the maddening crowd’. Thanks to hot air balloons, a tethered two-storeyed home floated above a railroad, with the ‘family airship’ docked by the back-fence.

In one of his ‘March of Intellect’ sketches, William Heath anticipated in 1829 the rise of labour-saving devices, or what he called ‘Grand Servant Superseding Apparatus for doing every kind of household work’. Each room of the house would be connected to an engine that would automate the nursery, the washing and ironing, dressing, mopping, cooking, and even a ‘self-leading band’. At century’s end, French artist Jean-Marc Côté similarly imagined that by the year 2000 new technologies would ease the burden of domestic labour, whether in the kitchen or keeping the home clean. Likewise, the automation of madame’s toilette would ensure she was pampered from head to toe, as though she had domestic help. Keeping the home warm and illuminated with radium also beckoned, a far remove from the smoke and detritus of wood and coal.  Political reform would also influence relations within the home. Satirists parodied what they imagined might eventuate from women’s increasing independence on traditional gender roles. Husbands of the future (at least in these examples from New Zealand and the United States) would become responsible for domestic duties, while their wives demanded their dinner upon arriving home from electioneering. Households and families would not be immune from the transformations underway in the public sphere.

Jean-Marc Côté, ‘En L’An 2000: Electric scrubbing’, c.1899, Wikimedia.