The Nursery

". . .the children's room, with drawers and clothes-press, close to the bath and water-closet and back outside door, so that children can run out and in without using other parts of the house."

Catherine E. Beecher, "How to Redeem Woman's Profession..." 1864



THY heart's fond treasure, doting mother,
Is fresh from skies divinely bland;
Its eyes' soft lustre is no other
Than radiance of the sunny land.
So fragile and so low descended,
So far removed from its celestial power,
It need with angel care be tended,
Or it may wither in an hour.
Then gently to thy bosom press it,
And breathe thy love notes in its ear;
Their music has the power to bless it
With dreams of its own native sphere.
A seraph chord astray from heaven,
Oh, may it here no discord learn,
But, mellow as the voice of even,
Back to the sunny land return!
Philadelphia, November 1850


THE aspect of a day-nursery should be light, airy, and, if attainable, exposed to the south. It is impossible to over-estimate the worth of this situation in the attempt to rear children in full health and buoyancy of spirit. The ruddy bloom of a well-trained child betokens something more than a sound constitution-it indicates a joyous temperament and keen enjoyment of life. Children immured in gloomy apartments never wear this look. In all save their clothing they are liable to resemble the ill-fed population of crowded cities, whose playground is the nearest gutter.
    Doctors agree that the best place for children is the upper part of a house, where the air circulates more freely, and the odours of the basement are less penetrating. Not that nurseries should be in what is termed the "roof of the house;" still less should a child's playroom have a sloping ceiling, such as attic apartments too often have. What children require is, a cheerful prospect without, and an airy, roomy space to romp in. The custom, which is gradually gaining ground, of converting the breakfast-room on the basement-floor of suburban villas into day-nurseries, is very objectionable. One can quite understand that want of space and insufficiency of attendance often render these arrangements arbitrary but the error invariably discovers itself in time in the increased want felt for stimulating food tonics, and other remedies for enfeebled constitutions.
    In case of an outbreak of any infectious complaint such as fever, measles, whooping-cough, &c., the sick child should retain possession of the nursery, or some room on that upper floor (as infection always ascends), and the other children should be given a temporary nursery on a lower floor, every article of clothing, bedding curtains, and carpets being removed at the same time It should always be remembered that children are more susceptible of infection than grown people. The maid in attendance on the sick child should never attend in the nursery of the other children.
    The furniture of nurseries requires a few words of comment. The bare necessaries of comfortable 1iving are all that should be admitted into apartments where space and cleanliness are indispensable. A large room full of furniture is less healthy than a small one scantily fitted up.
    Beginning with the walls: It would perhaps shock most people to tell them that the very best walls for a nursery are those which are simply plastered and whitewashed Every year, in the spring, the whitewash may be renewed at trifling cost, doing away with the harbour for fleas and more objectionable insects. Next in fitness is a painted wall, admitting of easy cleansing when required. Equal in excellence is marbled paper varnished, like that of halls and staircases of modern houses.
    Bedding is an important question, particularly if there be many children to provide for. If possible, each child should sleep alone; never with its nurse. Small iron bedsteads are best; but where there are many children especially little ones, it will be a good plan to have wickerwork cradles, made in the shape of the bassinet without the hood. A basket of this description, measuring three feet two inches at the bottom and two feet too inches wide, will be capable of containing a child till three years of age, at which time he may be quartered in some other apartment. The advantage these basket work bedsteads have is that the bedding may be removed from the nursery by day, and put elsewhere to air, and the baskets themselves stowed away one upon another till wanted.
    Horsehair mattresses are the best if the expense can be afforded. They are best because they admit of being easily unpicked and put together again. It is only necessary to unpick the "tabs," and empty the horsehair into a washing-tub filled with soap and water. When it has been thoroughly washed, together with the casing, it is as good and sweet as new. Every one acquainted with nursery management will be aware of the necessity for such cleansing.
    An excellent addition to the amount of bedding allowed will be under-mattresses of dry chaff. These are very inexpensive, can be made at home, and may be easily renewed. They are warm and springy. Here and there a tab will add to their evenness. Bolsters made of the same are comfortable and economical. For very young infants, especially when teething, a cot pillow-case of washleather, filled with horsehair, will be most suitable.
    Nursery bedding should not be aired in the same room  as that occupied by the children. If, however, no other means exist, the mattresses and clothes should be laid before the fire whilst the little ones are out walking, the windows and doors being left open during the process.
    The fittings of a nursery should be few and washable. Plain chintz curtains are preferable on this account to woollen materials. Sand-bags are requisite along the windows, in severe weather, because children cannot be kept from looking out and tapping at the panes, thereby exposing themselves to draughts.
    It is not advisable to cover a nursery completely with carpet. A square of felt, bound at the edges, and fastened at the corners and sides with a few carpet-nails (those made with large flat brass heads are the best), is easily removed, and easily shaken. The felt should be taken up one day in every week, and the room thoroughly scrubbed. An excellent addition to the ordinary means of cleansing consists of a lump of lime in the pail of water used for scrubbing. The lime not only whitens, but disinfects the boards. Whilst the nursery is scrubbed, the windows should be left open a few inches at both top and bottom, and a fire kept brightly burning, except in summer.
    A hamper for toys is a good substitute for a cupboard. If the house be large, and the nursery distant from the main supplies of provisions, a safe should be established on a landing, or in a spare room, wherein bread, milk, butter, and the nursery grocery may be kept. One or two saucepans for warming infants' food, and a kettle for the nursery tea, are indispensable.
    A small kitchen-range is preferable to the ordinary fireplace. These nursery-ranges, fitted with a boiler, save time and trouble, when hot water is frequently wanted, as in the case of the morning and evening bath.
    Nursery fenders are in such general use that it seems almost unnecessary to recommend them. No room appropriated to children is safe without such a protection from fire. To be perfectly safe, however, and beyond the reach of long sticks, it is needful that a wire guard should be suspended on the grate within.
    In planning the arrangements of a nursery, endeavour to make the little establishment as independent of the rest of the household as possible.
    With regard to ventilation : the well-being of children much depends on a plentiful supply of fresh air, and dangerous diseases are generated by breathing over and over again the same atmosphere. If a child waken languid in the morning, instead of being sprightly and refreshed, it may be taken as a tolerable indication of the inadequate ventilation of the sleeping-room during night. Some provision for the admittance of fresh air is indispensable. The upper sash of one window should be left a little open, taking care that no draught shall come on any bed. Should the weather be cold, or damp, leave the bed-room door open, instead of the window. The register of the fire-place in the sleeping-room must also be left open.
    The temperature of a bed-room in winter should be, as nearly as possible, at 60 Fahrenheit.

The Victorian Dictionary
compiled by
Lee Jackson

Nineteenth-century American Children

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A selection of works for children, from 1800 to 1872

Women Children's Book Illustrators

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