Geek Trivia

The Design Of Which Of These Common Office Objects Was Directly Influenced By The Quakers?

Waiting Room Chairs
Boardroom Tables
Mail Carts
Secretarial Desks
Which First Lady Started The White House Tradition Of Themed Christmas Trees?

Answer: Secretarial Desks

We’ve all been there at some point. You’re sitting at a desk, you lean back, you begin to stretch your legs out and thump, you hit the back of the desk and your poor legs are trapped against the panel at the front of the desk.

That panel, an annoyance to all the long-legged among us who just want to stretch out at their desks, has a name: the modesty panel. Yes, that kind of modesty. Although the panel might seem to be a structural component of the desk (and in some cases might actually be a structural component), it isn’t a necessary component but a vestigial remnant of furniture design hundreds of years old.

We are more than capable of designing furniture which doesn’t require a large flat cross-bracing panel in the front to remain stable, but office desks, drafting tables, piano and organ stands, and all manner of modern furniture types include this kind of panel all thanks to the Quakers, an early American cultural group famous for, among other things, their modesty. The Quakers started the practice of putting “modesty panels” on furniture in meeting houses and churches so that the lower body and legs of the person seated at them would be hidden from view.

The practice really took off during the Victorian area when modesty panels were outfitted on all manner of furniture and even attached to staircase bannisters to keep people from looking up women’s dresses as they ascended or descended the stairs. When women began entering the secretarial workforce in large numbers in the early 20th century, the modesty panel became a common, and enduring, feature on office desks.