August 6, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Just Hold Your Nose and Go

A new seat about to be installed
While we're on the subject of "stink, stank, stunk", let's talk about toilets in Victorian times.  For the most part, unless you were very rich or staying in a high class hotel, there were'nt any toilets in the 1800's.  Folks used an outhouse to do their business.  And, boy, did outhouses stink!  I know this from personal experience. I remember using the outhouse at my Aunt's farm in rural Minnesota in the 1950's.  They didn't have indoor plumbing - no toilet and just a pump and a well for water inside the house.

Outhouses came as one-holers, two holers, three-holers, sometimes more.  They were usually situated well away from the house or public building, hidden behind bushes or trees if possible. Most consisted or a small wooden structure with a door and a wooden bench inside with a hole in it.  That was it.  You could look down the hole and see (and smell - whew!) the excrement of those who came before you. There were always, it seems, flies and spiders lurking about. Under the outhouse was a deep hole and the waste was left to decompose on its own.  How did women manage with those long skirts?

Toilet paper was was not common but was available in rolls in the late 1800's.  A quick check in the Sears & Roebuck catalog from 1897 showed rolls of toilet paper for sale from $2.25 to $6.15 for 100 rolls. Until toilet paper became widely used around 1907, folks wiped with discarded paper, newspapers,pages from catalogs hung on strings in the outhouse, leaves, corn husks.  Some references stated that corncobs or mussel shells were used - can you imagine wiping your bottom with a corncob? Yikes!

For additional reading and references:  see the Extras section

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