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Lobby Life

Until about World War II, the public domain was hardly a place for either women or children. It would have been unseemly, for example, for an unaccompanied woman to be seen in a hotel lobby. Hotels, banks, and other commercial establishments maintained separate “protected” environments for women where, in the 19th century, they could rest from the virtual strangulation of their clothing (corsets inhibiting the ability to expand the rib cage and actually breathe) or, in the 20th, to perform feminine duties such as the nursing of young children.

I recall in the early 1950s traveling to downtown Chicago with my mother—which puts the event before 1953—and seeing a woman seated on the bus or street car (Chicago still had some of those into the 50s) and wondering what the heck was going on; no one else seemed to notice that she was nursing an infant. [Incidentally, public nursing went out of fashion, indeed became quite unfashionable from the 70s onward, and has only recently become something suitable for the public realm.] At coffee several weeks ago at an establishment on 13th Avenue South I saw three women with children enjoying an afternoon of conversation and one of them nursed during their social hour: I wondered if the infant was being introduced to the same delicious liquid I was enjoying, or was it just “mother’s milk”?

“The Blenheim,” Agincourt’s up-scale hotel was built about 1900 and, although its lobby was considerably larger than The Garland’s in Bedford, Iowa, its proportions would have been more generous but of much the same character is this.

hotel lobby

The only woman in sight is safely behind the desk and any others were probably upstairs changing bed linens or doing the laundry.


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