It has been a part of all of our daily routines since the beginning of time, but how was going to bed different in times past? The DAR Museum exhibition “And So To Bed: The American Bedroom 1750-1920,” which runs from May 4 – October 6, 2007, explores the evolution of the bed and the bedroom. Changing ideas of style, privacy, health, and hygiene altered the design of bedrooms, beds, bedding, and bedclothes. All of these will be traced in the DAR Museum exhibit highlighting furniture, textiles, and costume, sure to appeal to not only enthusiasts of these items, but anyone who has ever thought about going to bed.
The many decades between 1760 and 1920 witnessed revolutionary changes in the concept of the bedroom and the rituals surrounding how one prepared to go to bed or wake in the morning. This exhibition, a result of more than two years of planning and research by DAR Museum curators Alden O’Brien and Patrick Sheary, will examine the ways in which changing fashion, interior décor, and technology combined to create the modern master bedroom suite.
“When we envisioned an exhibit examining the early-American bedroom, one of our curators immediately came up with the title ‘And so to bed…’ from the words that 17th century English diarist Samuel Pepys used to end each day’s journal entry,” explains Diane Dunkley, DAR Museum Director and Chief Curator. “The exhibit theme is a great opportunity for us to showcase many of our beautiful and interesting collection items in the gallery as well as highlight the DAR Museum’s period rooms which feature five bedchambers.”
On exhibit is a reproduction Colonial American bedstead with decorative hangings and a beautiful circa 1750 indigo resist-printed cotton quilt (the earliest quilt in the DAR Museum collection). However, not everyone in early America slept in such elaborate and expensive beds. Examples of bed linens of the time show the variety of qualities from coarse to fine and an interactive display lets visitors pick if they would prefer to sleep on a mattress filled with materials used in the 1700s such as moss, straw, dried corn husks, wheat chaff, or feathers.
Until the 20th century, nightgowns were made to be sturdy, not seductive. Those women who had the luxury of spending the morning at home wore informal, but fashionable, loose gowns while they breakfasted and attended to undemanding tasks like letter-writing. Both simple and decorative sleepwear and morning wear, for women and men, are on display in the exhibit, as well as other clothing accessories like nightcaps and slippers, including Thomas Jefferson’s slipper socks.
During the 18th century, almost no
one had a room devoted specifically to washing. One bathed, when necessary, either outside or in the bedroom from a washbasin and pitcher. So the exhibition would not be complete without a look at the evolution of the bathroom. Early items such as a bathing tub, wash stand and images of early “shower baths” are on display, as well as unusual “bed steps” – a piece of furniture to assist owners climbing into a high bed that could also be made to conceal the identity of a chamber pot.
A replica 1920s bedroom concludes the exhibit by showing how the bedroom evolved to incorporate new styles of furniture and sleepwear. It also examines how mattress technology of the mid-19th century popularized steel springs and cotton felt stuffed mattresses which led to the individually wrapped coil springs that are the standard of today.
While many of us may take for granted the significance of the bedroom, it is the place where most of us start and end each day. With the DAR Museum’s examination of close to two centuries of bedroom accessories and custom, visitors can glimpse into the more personal practices of early-American society to compare and contrast to how we carry out our own bedroom routines today.