Boardinghouses were accommodations that offered rooms for rent. The average boardinghouse had a large number of bedrooms and a good-sized dining room. Boardinghouse accommodations usually included both lodging and meals.
By the 1880s, boarding was an established way of life. Private boardinghouses typically consisted of a married couple who kept several boarders, generally single, unrelated individuals. While married couples occasionally boarded, families with children rarely lived in boardinghouses.
Women usually took primary responsibility for boarders. For many women, keeping boarders and lodgers was a readily available way to earn money that permitted a flexible schedule and was compatible with caring for children. A married woman's income from boarding was often more reliable than her husband's income, and could well be the primary income for the household. Keeping boarders was also a source of income for some widows and mature single women.
For many landlords and boarders, the household intimacy of boarding was part of its appeal. Boarders not only took their meals within the household, but often participated in family activities. Boardinghouse residents met daily in the shared spaces of the dining room and the parlor.