The earliest domestic life artifacts received by the Institution consisted of relics of George Washington and items of ethnologic importance. Some objects were assigned to the Department of Ethnology, United States National Museum (USNM). Others were curated by the Section of Historical Relics and its various successors through to the Division of History, under the direction of A. Howard Clark until 1918 and Theodore T. Belote, 1919-1948.
From 1943 to 1957, the Civil Section of the Division of History and its successors cared for the furnishings collections, as part of the political history and costumes collections. Charles Dorman assisted Margaret Brown Klapthor and Anne Wood Murray with this responsibility. In 1957 the domestic life collections were assigned to the new Division of Cultural History, along with staff and collections from the former Division of Ethnology. C. Malcolm Watkins became Curator of Cultural History and Rodris C. Roth became Assistant and, subsequently, Associate Curator. In 1969, Cultural History was given departmental status. The Department featured a new Division of Costume and Furnishings, which now curated the furnishings collections from the former Division of Cultural History. It also included a new Division of Preindustrial Cultural History, with collections from the defunct Growth of the United States (GOUS) unit. Watkins served as Curator for the latter Division and Anne C. Golovin, from GOUS, was Associate Curator.
In 1977, the Division of Domestic Life was established, where domestic life artifacts from the Divisions of Costume and Furnishings and Preindustrial Cultural History were combined. Roth was made Curator of the new Division, and Golovin became Associate Curator.
Research of the Division of Domestic Life mainly focuses on American household artifacts such as furniture, lighting devices, and modern appliances; or metalware and small wooden objects commonly used in the home, which date from the early seventeenth century. The Division staff and their predecessors have acquired a variety of items formerly owned by leading American statesmen, as well as handmade objects from average households illustrating the development of the American home.
Curators and staff of domestic life collections have included C. Malcolm Watkins, Curator of Cultural History, 1957-1968, Chairman of the Department of Cultural History and Curator of Preindustrial Cultural History, 1969-1972, Senior Curator, 1973- ; Rodris C. Roth, Assistant Curator of Ethnology, 1957, Assistant Curator, 1958-1959, Associate Curator, 1960-1968, of Cultural History, Associate Curator, 1969-1972, Curator, 1972-1977, of Costume and Furnishings, Curator of Domestic Life, 1977- ; John N. Pearce, Assistant Curator of Cultural History, 1960-1963, Associate Curator, 1964; G. Carroll Lindsay, Assistant Curator of Ethnology, 1956-1957, Associate Curator of Cultural History, 1958; Anne C. Golovin, Assistant Curator of Growth of the United States, 1963-1968, Associate Curator of Preindustrial Cultural History, 1969-1977, Associate Curator of Domestic Life, 1977- ; Richard E. Ahlborn, Associate Curator of Cultural History, 1966-1968; Susan H. Myers, museum technician, 1971-1974, museum specialist, 1975-1977, of Preindustrial Cultural History; Richard H. Howland, Head Curator, 1961-1964, Chairman, 1964-1967 , of the Department of Civil History; Peter C. Welsh, Associate Curator, 1961-1962, Curator, 1963-1968, of Growth of the United States; and Wilcomb E. Washburn, Acting Curator of Political History, 1958, Curator, 1959-1965.