Disease and Décor: How Epidemics Shaped the Look of the Victorian Middle-Class Bedroom

April 22, 2021
1:00 PM
Location: Virtual Lecture Series
Newport, RI 02840

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Thursday, April 22, 1 p.m. EDT
Sara J. Oshinsky, 
Independent Historian

After four significant cholera epidemics and having a nascent understanding of germs and disease transmission, mid-century Victorians embarked on a call for sanitary reform. The decoration of domestic interiors was one of many topics subjected to these new ideas of health and hygiene. In Ms. Oshinsky’s lecture, health-oriented bedroom decoration will be examined through the lens of design reformers and advice manuals that were marketed to the middle-class consumer. We will see how the bedroom transformed from what was perceived as an unhealthy incubator for disease to a healthy and pleasant environment as well as how these new ideas appeared in the United States.


About Sara J. Oshinsky
Sara J. Oshinsky was educated at New York University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Art History following a short career as a ballet dancer. After working for a few years in a New York City auction house, she furthered her studies and completed a Master’s degree in the History of Decorative Arts and Design from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum/Parsons School of Design (thesis: Aspects of a Consumer Revolution in 18th Century France: The Souvenir and Other Objets de Luxe). Ms. Oshinsky was an early contributor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Helibrunn’s Timeline of Art History through four essays on 19th-century British design. In 2018, she participated in the Design History Society’s 17th annual Conference on Design and Displacement where she spoke on Erwin Thieberger: Holocaust Survivor, Immigrant Roofer, Accidental Artisan. Interestingly, 20 years ago in February 2001, Ms. Oshinsky presented her first academic paper at the Newport Symposium, The Art of Entertaining: 18th through 20th Centuries

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Disease and Décor: How Epidemics Shaped the Look of the Victorian Middle-Class Bedroom