The Grand Domestic Revolution by Dolores Hayden is a book that focuses not only on the history of women, their confinement to domestic and household work, and the redefining of the architecture of houses but also on bringing about social and societal change, the power of women in the community, family, their economic independence and equal rights. The term formulated by Stephen Pearl Andrews mainly elaborated on the ideology of socializing household work—cooking, laundry, and child care—by shifting them to communal and shared spaces. This would alter the idea and design of space and architecture, thus providing a route to new and improved lifestyles. This extension of the private sphere into the public sphere acted as the groundwork for other social reform campaigns, some of which were directed at voting and women’s suffrage, women’s right to higher education, etc. 

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Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods and Cities(MIT Press, book jacket) _©UniversityatBuffalo

Furthermore, the book also reveals the struggles and innovative visions of material feminists, as the author Dolores Hayden refers to them. These were the very first set of people from the United States who identified the economic squeeze of women’s domestic labor and demanded that they recuperate regarding the same- economically and politically. 

The compact insight into the book gathers how much we as a society and the world have advanced and how illogical it would be to return to an environment exemplified by conditions that women had to come to terms with and experience back then. The notion of material feminism challenged the very norms laid down by a patriarchal civilization—that belittled women’s rights, worth, and standing in society- and aimed for a domestic revolution to provide women with the necessary material conditions. 

Dolores Hayden elaborates on the preexisting information, questions, traditions, and ideologies of intellect and architecture that had been sidelined and unrecognized by activists. She identifies Gilman’s work Women and Economics– the Economic Factor between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution under the same category, where her predecessors had not been acknowledged properly by Gilman herself.  

The fight for women had been divided into those who fought for women’s public equality and justice and those who aimed to re-correct the family and private lifestyles. This, according to Hayden, was the result of finite knowledge about these mid-18th and early 19th-century feminists. However, both have a common underlying aim, “to overcome the split between domestic life and public life created by industrial capitalism, as it affected women.” 

The domestic feminists, as referred to in the context, wanted women’s equality to be measured by their potentiality of controlling their own work- what they want to do when, where, and how- and not dictated by society. They aimed for women to control their circle, work, life, and the reproduction of society. These campaigns were fueled from 1868 all the way until 1931, after which it was forced to accept defeat under the Home Building and Ownership report that was released by the Hoover Commission. The public was presented with standardized apartments and single occupancy homes in suburban living conditions. Though the exteriors reflected the contemporary styles of architecture, the interior layout was strikingly similar to that of Victorian homes that stated the concepts of respectability, consumption, and female domesticity- something that was subjected to the Americans for long periods of time prior. The report eventually shunned the initiative of housewife cooperatives and feminist motherhood. 

The only repercussion of capitalism had been the socializing of work that could be replaced by profitable mechanical inventions, that developed as a result of the dominant industrial sector, and skilled services– usually performed by lower-class women. The ménage work of cooking, cleaning, and childcare still remained for the wives to be done unappreciated and unpaid as ever. 

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Child Care Center, 1893 _©EPFL

Material feminists, on the other hand, pursued domestic reorganization that would in turn attain women’s equality and the resolution of class, race, and gender dissensions. These material feminists who presented their audacious schemes between the Civil War and the Great Depression were fueled by the hope of the evolution and the success of technological innovations that would make domestic labor so very simple. Dolores Hayden voices that the energy systems were detailed and developed to meet the increasing demand for domestic consumption due to these convoluted devices. These suggestive reforms criticized the traditional concepts of the “woman’s sphere economically, architecturally, and socially.” Hayden stated that the redefined space of homes would be the background for the social and economic tests. As domestic small-scale industries advanced to large-scale production industries, the feminists’ domestic work was to grow beyond the four walls of home and spill into communal kitchens, shared laundries, and daycares. But many of them had unrealistic expectations, with only a few identifying that change would occur in the division of household work only with a change in attitude and not just innovations in domestic appliances.

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World War II 24-hour child care center with take-out dinner, Vanport City, Oregon, 1945 _©UniversityatBuffalo

Yet the strength of consumerism and capitalism was left unnoticed by many feminists ranging from Melusina Fay Peirce in the 1860s to Ethel Puffer Howes in the 1930s. This ignorance led to the ideas of suburban living and single-family home ownership thriving in the context. The material feminists fell victim to Red-baiting and consumerism. At the same time, multiple experiments had been launched by architects, planners, and even housewives due to exigencies. 

These proposals as put forth by the material feminists were the precursors to 20th-century feminism, and directed their arguments at two theories- the separation of housework and the designated space from the shared space and that of domestic and political economy. Led by Melusina Fay Peirce, Mary Livermore, Marie Stevens Howland, Victoria Woodhull, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and many others, the movement raised numerous issues about the relationship of men, women, and children in an industrial society. The feminists of today have regarded the sexual division of domestic labor in urban households as the result of oppression that has existed for a long- the very domestic labor preserved only for women by their material predecessors. 

Men were dominants in the field of production, so women needed to dominate the service and distribution sectors. Women were the rightful candidates for the same since they were also paramount in the consumption of produce. This developed the proposition of “cooperative housekeeping”, where the men would be charged for the women’s domestic work. The societies set up for the same were discriminated against and eventually shut down. The demand for women to be paid for domestic labor won the support of suffragists like Edward Bellamy and William Dean Howells, who helped spread the word about their aim and cause. They were also assisted by many progressive architects and planners– reorganizing housing designs and the layout of spaces that dictated the domesticity of women’s labor.

The spatial out-turn of material feminists’ visions was the development of urban communities with new and improved physical and social infrastructures. The new architecture presented the idea of collective- with a range of communal services, kitchenless houses, etc. But post World War II, suburban living had reached a peak, with the feminist inputs to the design of spaces becoming more and more obsolete and invisible. 

A model of the kitchenless house, 1912 _©EPFL

Feminists who envisioned specialized child care were looked upon as avid dreamers of services that would never cease to exist. Marie Stevens Howland, who stressed the importance of this specialized care and creating spaces for children’s development in her translation of Social Solutions by Godin, went on to speak for women’s rights in choosing their own sexual relations. The label of “wild” and “extremely imaginative” hampered this. 

Though times are changing, there is a similar habit that is still prevalent in the present. In numerous circumstances, women have no right to choose for themselves—choices are made by the male patriarchal heads of families, their fathers, husbands, and even their brothers. In some cases, it is advertised as ‘what’s right for them’ and that ‘they do not know the world’, whereas in many cases, they are not even deemed worthy enough to be provided with an explanation. This is incorrect, and continuous attempts and reforms have been made to rectify the same- they must survive the test of time to bear fruitful outcomes.  

The next group of feminists shifted the focus to more urban issues. They aimed at an entirely different population of women—industrial laborers and professionals. These women visualized domestic issues as public ones that were faced by all women and used their domestic skillset to question these issues and cultivate their public skills. 

Material feminists thus have spatial and sociological critique to expound on the reanalysis and reimagining of the domestic workplace. Women’s unpaid housework should not be exploited and must be credited for a revolution that is still underway in multiple households across the globe.

Citations | Dolores Hayden

Macarena Iribarne (2019). Utopian dreams in the new world and for the new woman: the influence of utopian socialism in first wave feminism: The case of Marie Howland and Topolobambo’s community. University of Wollongong. (Accessed: December 17, 2022)


Divya is passionate in how design can connect people, their interactions, places, sites, and their environment. She enjoys exploring new places and studying architecture. Inclined toward architectural solutions that are sensible and sustainability-centered, she thinks that architecture can build a global society.