University of California Los Angeles Technology and Perceptions of Bathing Discussion



University Of California Los Angeles

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Submerged Sensuality: Technology and Perceptions of Bathing Author(s): Jacqueline S. Wilkie Source: Journal of Social History, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Summer, 1986), pp. 649-664 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 23-03-2020 22:22 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at Oxford University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Social History This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 22:22:09 UTC All use subject to SUBMERGED SENSUALITY: TECHNOLOGY AND PERCEPTIONS OF BATHING In the early nineteenth century few Americans bathed, and according to sentiment those who did risked dissipation and ill health. Within a century dramatically changed, and frequent bathing had become the norm at leas middle-class Americans. Perceptions of proper bathing technique and rea bathing altered as plumbing technology evolved from the portable, hand-fi emptied) tub in the mid-nineteenth century to the fixed tub attached to hot running water and built in drains in the late nineteenth and early twentieth ce Concern over health was of course another major impetus for bathing in hundred years after its introduction in the United States. Yet changes in perceptions concerning acceptable personal behavior were equally importa widespread adoption of the tub. Acceptance of bathing, therefore, illustr interaction of technological and cultural change. In the early nineteenth-century the scarcity of indoor plumbing made it im for most people to bathe. Following the British lead, nineteenth-century A cities began to install the public water and sewage systems that were prerequ a well-plumbed environment. Sanitary reformers, to their dismay, discover demand quickly outstripped supply. Early nineteenth-century water superin frequently descried the lavish use of water and the consequent rise in wast High demand, combined with the fear of cholera and other epidemic d encouraged the rapid spread of these supporting plumbing technologies. Howeve most cities built water and sewer lines on the basis of who could pay, those w financially well off received the benefits of the technology much faster than th populace. Consequently, even with the increased availability of water an facilities in most major cities in the mid-nineteenth century, sanitary conditio greatly within each city.1 The development of municipal water and sewerage systems did mean, howe those supplied with this boon could now install indoor plumbing. It is lik Americans obtained fixtures in their order of perceived usefulness: sinks, w and water closets all preceded fixed bathtubs and hot water heaters (wh commercially available in the 1840s). Despite this tendency to treat the b a luxury, American attention gradually turned to bathing with the ready av of water.2 Between 1830 and 1850 those seeking a bath had sundry devices fr to choose: showers or "rainbaths," sitz baths, tubs, saunas, and electro-chemic Most of these required hand filling and disposal of wastes, and many were to decrease the distance water had to be carried. The variety in available app and the continued emphasis on portability reflected the manufacturers' awaren indoor plumbing was not widespread even among the wealthy. As cities expanded water and sewer lines, the competing types of baths be disappear and the tub's popularity grew. These earliest fixed tubs were made of sheet metal or, that rare luxury, porcelain. The production process was com since manufacturers used a single sheet of metal to reduce the chance of Consequently, fixed bathtubs remained expensive luxury items despite manu attempts to reduce cost by producing copper or wooden tubs lined with zin This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 22:22:09 UTC All use subject to 650 journal of social history were both less expensive and less har expensive models, bathing filtered down do by the 1860s.3 A few hotels installed bathrooms in the Tremont House in Boston boasted eigh floor waterclosets in 1829. Seven years included a bath and toilet on each floor. personal, fixed bathtub, installed in the was the rage of Cincinnati that Christm with municipal water in Philadelphia, desirable feature...." Most studies indi water was available, fixed baths were av Those fortunate enough to have bathtu population. People in rural and poor nei and drainage technologies and the fin The relative scarcity of facilities discour from designing homes with bathing ro cells of today; in fact, the water-closet rooms. These bathing rooms tended to Beecher, in A Treatise on Domestic Eco saving home for American women, she of the home next to the kitchen. Th washtubs, a fixed bathtub, and a wate running water was supplied from the required a wash-house, Beecher urged h one.5 Andrew Jackson Downing, a popular American landscape architect, crusaded for the bathing room in his Cottage Residences of 1842. He placed a portable tub in a room over the kitchen so that hot water could be easily supplied. While Downing recognized that expense would prohibit bathroom installation in the majority of small cottages, in 1850 he continued his proselytizing for bathing facilities by placing a permanent fixed bathtub on the second floor in his Architecture of Country Homes. This may have initiated a new phase in the evolution of the American bathroom. By using a fixed tub and placing it in a special room on the second floor, Downing elevated the place of the bath in American homes; it was no longer an addition to the house but a permanent part of it.6 Godeys Ladies Book, with a circulation of 150,000 by 1860, followed suit. In the 1861 volume, seven out of 12 "Model Cottage" plans placed well-plumbed bathrooms on the second floor. Those without bathrooms were either less expensive models or were built during the 1850s. New homes for the wealthy almost automatically received all available plumbing fixtures. By 1869, Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher-Stowe located the bathroom on the second floor of their upper-middle-class "cottage" and expected it to be used.7 Middle-class Americans in the mid-nineteenth century may have ignored the suggestions of Godeys, Beecher, and Downing. Yet, most architectural historians agree that these three strongly influenced and reflected middle-class ideals of domesticity during this period. While none of their ideas was original, the ability of each to translate architectural and homemaking innovations made Godeys "the arbiter of the parlor," Beecher the envangelist of domesticity, and Downing the artistic advisor ofthe middle class.8 It is therefore reasonable to assume that the strong advocacy of these three paralleled rising concern among middle-class Americans with bathing. This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 22:22:09 UTC All use subject to SUBMERGED SENSUALITY 651 To persuade people to bathe, prom each of which reveals the interactio of inducements accompanied the po electro-chemical bath extracted "delet refreshed the weary, cooled the exc brought the cleanliness that was n A common strain throughout thes bathing. Given mid-nineteenth-centur that promoters of bathing emphasiz all other purposes. Doctors, domestic earlier beliefs about the dangers of held prejudices against this "natural p of disease cause (a theory which lead time period) about the balance of b blood in eliminating noxious substa The by A As depth their few their individuals early giving of concern elaborate, as 1831 powers immersion of in with detailed discussed John tepid both Bell, bathing. spre descript the M.D., of According water (92? to revitalization, tranquilizing the spirit the functions of the skin. He advise suffering unusual illnesses, claiming go into shock after leaving a cold F) caused excessive "caloric" excitem scientific empiricism with humoral effect on the pulse, blood and skin This early publication on the benefit contrast to the works that followed physiological claims, they shared n of bathing nor his condemnation of or positively forbade the use of war instead the cold plunge as the most ordeal one suffered for the sake of o William Andross Alcott, probably th support for his position, described and oily substances exuded by the ski from the premises of humoral theor bath provided the best means for im substances. In addition, bathing rem illnesses, and it further encouraged Catherine Beecher's popular discussi ofthe body in terms of pores, nervethe skin as a vital organ involved in p perspiration. As a result, the true pu not to remove dirt or sensually sat temperature-regulating mechanism necessarily bad for those with weak c consisted of a cold plunge for a fe A third work by J.H. Walsh, a Bri and New York in 1857, agreed with This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 22:22:09 UTC All use subject to 652 journal of social history one step further in its treatment of bat to the nervous system and thereby reliev (on the advice of a physician, of cours recommended the cold plunge above all ot or hot baths could be dangerous if tak stimulated the skin, robbing it of its he to be treated as a pleasure but a duty; he bath may be in hot weather, yet it is by n must carefully regulate children's bathin water and thus do absolute injury to them a most valuable adjunct to health."14 A female physician in the 1860s also en and how long one should be submerged. cold "heroic" affairs, she advised people a medical advisor, she saw warm bathin not as a regenerative activity. Authors In 1861 and 1862 they advised mothers for every thing from cholera to whoopi Interestingly enough, few of these pro of soap, despite their concern with rem Bell encouraged the use of soap. Alcott b circumstances but was not necessary fo whereas Austin, the female physician, c "patient" was excessively dirty, since so If most mid-nineteenth-century, midd the typical bath consisted of a cold plu soap and taken solely as a prescription for technology and the difficulties of bathing drainage certainly prompted this advice that the absence of this technology wou They knew that many, even among thei easy bathing and therefore each advisor s baths, basin baths, and river bathing. If blandishments for bathing would have t would have been ludicrous to advise long either lacked tubs or were unaccustom Changes in advice, though, accompanied confirming the link between technolog spread of urban sewer and water servic lowered costs and improved the quality the late nineteenth and early twentieth baths at a steadily accelerating pace. The reports of urban water commission rising use of indoor plumbing among t taking water and water usage by those w these years. Water officials, unable to k usage and waste of water caused the gre accounted for some ofthe rising demand the installation of new plumbing apparatu controlling Boston's Cochituate Reservoir, tubs, etc.) serviced between 1864 and 18 water closets rose 119 percent, baths 10 This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 22:22:09 UTC All use subject to SUBMERGED SENSUALITY 653 1874 the number of water takers while the number of private bath a result ".. as of this .liberally a number trend, with of engineers apparatus..." other fixtures, co in and was usually provided with a bat Increased installation of tubs wa J.L. Mott Iron Works of New Yor cast-iron bathtub in the 1870s. B solid porcelain and vitreous chin output accompanied production o out one bathtub per day, 30 year Additionally the number of firm While new models, lowered costs some, improved p prices rem year plumbing manufacturers mar finish. This new tub fashion met the one-piece, double-shell capture durability and lower cost. Americ easily-chipped innovation.19 cast-iron ename With changes in the technology an integral part of the American Architectural floor plans indicate for a proper home to include a b bathroom evolved from a renova of today. Apartment houses for the wealthy were among the first to use the bath cell. When Philip Hubert adapted French apartment designs to the American setting he added improved, separate plumbing for each unit. Henry J. Hardenburgh's Dakota (1884), the best-known apartment building in New York City, provided one bath, toilet and sink per apartment. Single-family homes also began to include the standard cell during the same time period. The new Victorian streetcar suburbs offered arcadian dwellings with "All Modern Improvements" including plumbing and fixed bathtubs. Middle-class women were particularly interested in obtaining these appliances. In 1885 the wife of a prosperous businessman requested, in an article for Good Housekeeping, that architects and builders include a specially designed bathroom for the second floor of new homes.20 After 1900 the trend toward acceptance of the bath cell as an essential part of the American middle-class home accelerated. Gustov Stickley, a popular builder whose "Craftsman Homes" were designed to reintroduce the jaded city dweller to natural settings and fresh air, tucked small, standard bath cells into his architectural plans. Of 39 houses Stickley designed between 1904 and 1911 only four summer cottages lacked a standard compact bathroom. While Stickley urged his followers to use "sleeping porches," he did not encourage the fresh air or contact with nature afforded by outhouses and river bathing.21 In Middletown, Helen Merrill Lynd and Robert Lynd noted the growing importance of the bathroom as a part of the middle-class home. While not more than 24 homes in Muncie, Indiana had complete bathrooms in 1890, by die 1920s builders automatically installed bathrooms in all new middle-class homes and owners of older homes followed suit. The Lynds asserted that the middle class saw possession of a bathtub as a sign of affluence. In fact, people in "Middletown" increasingly believed that ".. .decent This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 22:22:09 UTC All use subject to 654 journal of social history people... have a second bathroom..." It s with Babbitt's pride in his ".. .altogethe and metal sleek as silver."22 The Lynds' account of working-class endorsement of the bath cell as an indi as middle-class observers, reported that 2 ? not that 75 percent had baths. Their their dismay over the number of work than tubs attested to how thoroughly become.23 Yet Middletown also offered strong evidence that this was primarily a middle class phenomenon. As in earlier periods, correlation between affluence and indoor plumbing was strong. Only one out of every six dwellings in American cities had a bathtub in 1880 and as late as 1895 no tenement house in New York City provided its residents with bathing facilities. Although the middle class came to expect private bathrooms in their own homes, few advocated housing reforms for the poor which included the standard bath cell. Most housing reformers were more concerned with air, light and water closets than with bathtubs. As late as 1920 Lawrence Veiller's influential tenement codes required only private water-closets.24 The average laborer did not enjoy the benefits of a bathroom at home until after World War I. Changes in mortgage requirements and government programs at this time sparked a building boom which provided improved suburban housing for workers. With this new housing workers obtained baths - realtors reported that bathroom style could make or break a sale. As a result, between 1921 and 1923, the number of tubs installed in the United States increased from 2,400,000 to 4,800,000. A 1931 Presidential Commission on housing declared: "Personal cleanliness and frequent baths rank high in the American standard of living." Seventy-one percent of the urban dwellings they surveyed posessed bathrooms, 16 percent had two or more, and 45 percent ofthe owners expressed an interest in installing a second bathroom.25 From the 1880s on, then, diffusion of bathing technology was rapid but uneven. The middle class set the pace with laborers obtaining private baths only after they could purchase pared-down middle-class suburban housing. Not everyone had a bathtub, particularly people living in rural areas and older working-class tenements, but in less than 60 years the majority of Americans (almost three-quarters according to the 1931 report) had obtained one. Just as scarcity of private baths supported the efficient cold-water ideology of the earlier period, this flood of tubs encouraged a new approach to bathing. While health remained an important incentive for bathing well into the nineteenth century, new inducements joined it, particularly invigoration and relaxation, In fact, as the technology spread the sensual benefits of bathing became increasingly important. At first, advocacy of bathing for health echoed the physiological explanations that Beecher and her contemporaries favored. As one might expect, this was particularly true in the later decades of the nineteenth century. One physician, in a text entitled Bible Hygiene of Health Hints (1880), recommended bathing in cold water (45? to 55? F) or temperate water (55? to 65? F) to stimulate and promote the functions of the skin. Seven years later, another physician discussed the importance of stimuiating the skin with cold water, though he warned against "overuse" of the process. An 1897 North American Review article claimed that bathing was an irreplacable element in preventive medicine but, like Bell earlier, cautioned against cold water.26 In the early twentieth century, physiologists and biologists Theodore Hough, William Sedgwick, Robert Woodworth and Jean Broadhurst all discussed the importance of bathing to stimulate skin function in works published in 1906, 1913 and 1918 respectively. This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 22:22:09 UTC All use subject to SUBMERGED SENSUALITY 655 But these publications replaced o theory of disease cause with the text asserted, "... filth and dirt a and the use of clean clothing dim of a health book for boys and gi dirt" which caused disease. Jean Br stand when she identified bathtu solutions to the spread of germs. of Public Education, Departmen similarly cited invisible dirt as 1925 Gates and Strang, educators test from widely used health text bath, twice a week, would stimul bather healthy.28 Fear of germs particularly also after prompted the discovery m o and typhoid. The germ theory o would spread from poorer sect appeared necessary to wash the While the adoption of the germ knowledge, it alone cannot accoun The more important indicators o medical inducements that these p readers. In contrast to their earli century bio-medical authors praise (Hereafter, these boons will be r Health advisors and doctors claim cold baths invigorated and refres the hectic in general pace of industrial life; s returned youthful appe and Harriet Beecher Stowe, while of bathing, acknowledged that p a great they luxury." They recommended health but to abandoned cool make it B bathing feel mor Chautauquan outlined the physio bat ...
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