Revisited Myth #15: A double staircase was designed to separate men from women so that men would not catch a glimpse of a woman’s ankles as she climbed the stairs.

Seems that anywhere you have a double staircase, this myth pops up. Not long ago, I heard it said at Virginia’s Governor’s Mansion (at 201 years of age, the oldest occupied governor’s house in the fifty states), where there are two staircases in the center of the house, one opposite the other. In this instance, however, the docent correctly pointed out that the story was, indeed, a myth. In truth, the two staircases were meant to separate the slaves and servants from the family. Many large historic houses have two or more staircases; the nicer one, usually in the front hall, was meant for the family and guests, the smaller, narrower, and usually steeper one for servants. 

Another sort of double staircase is the mirror image kind that is seen on very grand mansions and palaces, like France’s Fontainebleau, below. This was built in the early 1600s, long before the Victorian era when ankle gazing was frowned upon. Decorative double staircases like these were designed for aesthetic reasons, to impress. As, indeed, they do!

13244660-france-the-stairway-of-fontainebleau-castle

And here is another example: West Virginia’s Governors Mansion, built in 1925, at a time when hemlines reached the knee, and no one was concerned about naked ankles. Double staircases were never intended to separate men from women. 

800px-WVGovernorsMansionFoyer

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