While researching an unrelated topic, I believe I have found, not only the etymology of the term, but the details of Anoka’s first rest room.
The Anoka Herald newspaper, dated Aug. 12, 1898, says it is “to be opened and furnished at once.”
As families came into town from the countryside, they often went their separate ways in pursuit of their respective errands; men to the blacksmith shop or hardware store, women to the dry goods store or the grocer’s shop.
According to the article, each women must ask herself or her spouse, “Where shall I wait after my shopping is done till my husband is ready to go home?”
The public rest room, located in city hall, was provided for that purpose.
The rest room was designed by women with the needs of women in mind.
It had a homey atmosphere, and comfortable furniture, donated by Anoka women.
Because the wagon ride into town was hot and dusty, a place was needed where ladies could freshen up.
Decorative screens made of cretonne provided privacy, and soap and towels were provided by other local women.
Most farm families were too poor to afford a restaurant meal on these trips, so they brought lunch from home.
The rest room provided a small kitchen where women could fix and serve lunch.
Cradles were provided for the babies and small cots for the children who required an afternoon nap.
At one point, the rest room even had a few beds “for the elderly, the pregnant, or those of a delicate condition.”
The rest room was staffed, at least initially, by volunteer members of the Women’s Club or the Women’s Study club.
The staff even provided free babysitting!
According to the newspaper, “Here the mother, who has come to the city, may leave her infant and do her shopping.
“The ladies who look after the rooms are generally glad to see the little ones…”
“The room was to be open “on the days that are most convenient for the women of the country…to be specified later, and on the regular club days.”
Later, a men’s area was added, separate from the women’s, and the lunch room morphed into a common family area that was more like a living room with couches, books, and magazines.
Local merchants supported the efforts of the Women’s Club; however, with volunteer labor, donated supplies, and a city-provided space, one cannot imagine that a great deal of “support” was needed.
Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.