Standing Stool


rstool The standing stool came to America with the seventeenth-century settlers. Puritans believed that crawling was unnatural and demeaning and made every effort to encourage their children to stand and walk at a very early age. The first standing stools were simple round stools with a hole in the center into which the mother would place the child. Some were equipped with wheels and were called walking stools. Parents thought that these devices would encourage their children to grow erect and straight, physically and morally. The standing stool did of course have the advantage of keeping the child off the floor and away from the dangers of the fireplace or stairs. The walking stool offered no such benefits, but it continued to be used in some American homes until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

sstool In the early nineteenth century, as attitudes toward raising children became more lenient, the form and purpose of the standing stool changed. It assumed the shape we see here: a simple box with a board seat and a tray for small toys at the front. The child could sit or stand and play with his toys, yet be safe from harm. Karen Calvert, author of Children in the House (Boston, 1992), notes that by the early nineteenth century, standing stools were not common, and the few produced at that time were homemade and fairly crude. Our standing stool is just such a piece of furniture, simply made, and rather uncomfortable in appearance. The history of our stool is not known, but the Rev. Roland Sawyer, a local historian born in the 1870s, had in his family a standing stool just like it, which had come from the Dows of Kensington. These two stools were rare survivals even then and may well have been used in the Hampton area long after they went out of fashion in other regions.