Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

23 Feb

In my never-ending quest for information about our ancestors, I am usually not content to settle on their statistics – birth, marriage and death, etc.  I want to know more – who they were, how they lived their lives and what challenges they faced along the way.  In looking for clues about their lives – I think about some very strange things – take hygiene for instance.  This morning as I showered, applied my wrinkle cream and painted my face I got to thinking about how difficult these simple tasks must have been for our ancestors. 

Bathing – face it – it didn’t transpire on a regular schedule.  The enamel bathtub wasn’t invented until 1883.  Up until then, most people bathed in wooden or metal tubs.  Those that had washtubs would bring water in by bucket, and then it had to be heated on the stove, and usually more than one person had to use the same water.  I would avoid bath time as well if I had to go through that much trouble!  In our neck of the woods (Texas, New Mexico, Utah) bathing was often done in streams or ponds.  For some folks, a bath consisted mainly of a pitcher of water and a washcloth every now and again.  I imagine it was a stinky affair!  

Toothpaste was developed in the 1820s and then mass-produced in the 1870s; however, it was not widely used during that time period.  The more likely scenario for our family members was that they resorted to stripping a tender twig from a tree or bush and then they commenced to scrubbing their teeth with it.  If you were extra lucky your household had some baking soda to use with that twig!  Dentistry has been available for many centuries; however, preventive dentistry was something not practiced.  Most people only had the resources to go to the dentist when the need was dire.

In the 19th century, a pale appearance was a highly desirable physical trait in a woman.  Women risked their health by using dangerous cosmetics including “whiteners” which contained substances such as zinc oxide, mercury and lead.  Some women even ate chalk or drank iodine to achieve this desired whiteness.  Alternatively, lip and cheek color were considered scandalous.  

Now are you ready for this?  We should get on our hands and knees and thank God that we were born in this century!  As if the chamber pot and the dreaded outhouse aren’t bad enough – did you know that most people living in rural areas used corncobs for toilet paper?  Seriously.  Most rural outhouses had one hanging on a string.  Did they reuse them?! 

For those folks that had access to it, paper from old books and/or newspapers  was used as well.   Even if you didn’t place an order, the good old Sears & Roebuck catalog always served its purpose.   








So, as I’m laying here in bed with my lap top….freshly showered, shampooed and deodorized (yes, that’s two showers in one day!) I am forever grateful for the life and luxuries I’ve been granted. 

….these are the things I think about when I get bored…..


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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Odds and Ends, Times and Places


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