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Old 12-16-2012, 06:31 PM
 
Location: University City, Philadelphia
22,583 posts, read 11,763,332 times
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About five years ago I attended a lecture by a University of Pennsylvania professor who just published a book on the history of personal hygiene in the US (it was published by the Yale University Press, if my memory serves me.) It was a fascinating subject. Our current standards of cleanliness is a relatively recent phenomenon and the fact is, a century ago most people were pretty dirty and stinky.
  • Back in George Washington's day, you were considered "clean" if you washed your hands and your face in a basin and put on a clean shirt ('clean linen' as they called it).
  • The idea of even taking a weekly bath - usually on Saturday night - didn't take hold until after the Civil War in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century.
  • Toilet paper wasn't even invented until about 1880, and not commonly used until the first or second decade of the Twentienth Century. What did they use? A personal rag, or pieces of torn up newspaper.
  • Well off citizens used perfumes and scented oils to mask body odors. Proper ladies carried "nose-gays" or little flower bouquets or sachets of pressed herbs to cover their noses when out in public.
  • In the late Nineteenth Century, reformers in big cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore built public bath-houses so the "unwashed masses" could clean themselves as most homes and tenements did not have running water or bathing facilities.
What are your thoughts on this interesting topic?
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Old 12-16-2012, 07:01 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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A couple of times when we have had one of those "If You Could Time Travel To the Past.." style threads, I've tossed in the warning that these travelers had better be prepared for an astonishing assault on their olfactory senses. Along with the above 19th Century American cities still hosted an immense array of animals, especially horses, which while smog free, left behind the undigested portions of their meals all over the streets. It was still routine for people to empty their human waste right out the windows of their crowded tenements.

And no one was using Arid Extra Extra Dry.
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Old 12-16-2012, 07:15 PM
 
Location: University City, Philadelphia
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In the 17th, 18th and early 19th Centuries doctors actually believed bathing too much - like more than once or twice a year! - was 'unhealthy'! The theory was people were supposed to have a film of dirt or grime on their bodies as some kind of protection or immunity from disease.

The ancients - Egyptians, Hebrews, Persians, Greeks, Romans - often bathed regularly and had better standards of hygiene than people in West after the rise of Christianity. It was the early Christians who despised the public nudity of the classical world, and early church fathers preached against bathing or paying attention to the body as opposed to spiritual things.
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Old 12-16-2012, 07:36 PM
 
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Its a great topic that should be expanded (world wide customs included throughout history) and a staple of education to show the evolution and correlation of population / disease etc...

In particular, I like one aspect of personal hygiene as the perfect retort to those who espouse "intelligent design" - explain the need for toilet paper! :-D

Everything from personal hygiene standards to basic healthcare (dental, eye care, etc..) is fascinating when you realize outside of a few advanced ancient civilizations, how grateful people (especially in the US) should be for the times in which they live. It gives perspective on basic everyday quality of life issues.
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Old 12-16-2012, 09:53 PM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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I think we've gone the other extreme...it's not really necessary to bathe/shower daily, we're afraid of ANY body odour that we have to mask it.

^ What does toilet paper have to do with ID? We don't NEED it, it's just we're averse to the idea of being dirty down there. Animals just let the fecal residue remain, I guess it attracts insects and stuff though lol.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:36 AM
 
Location: Miami, FL
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I would love to now the title of the book referenced in the OP.

As for the remainder...ever try to shower with cold water outdoors on a truly cold morning? I have and can state I understand why body bathing was limited to once per week in a tub filled with hot water. I could manage it in my late teens/early 20s. Not so now.

Besides anyone who has seen Cross of Iron knows "Dirt mixed with body oils keeps you waterproof.."

Last edited by Felix C; 12-17-2012 at 09:46 AM..
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Old 12-17-2012, 11:28 AM
 
Location: East of the Sun, West of the Moon
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In 10th century England, good Anglo-Saxon fathers warned their daughters about Danish and Norwegian lotharios who washed their faces and hands daily and bathed frequently.

Yes, the Vikings were the dandy metrosexuals of their day.
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Old 12-17-2012, 02:39 PM
 
Location: University City, Philadelphia
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During the lecture on the history of personal hygiene, the professor showed slides relating to the topic. One was a Civil War era anti-Southern cartoon published in a Northern publication (Harper's Weekly perhaps?). The cartoon depicted two filthy shaggy looking Confederate soldiers who just invaded a proper Quaker woman's home in Pennsylvania looking at horror at something they never saw before - a stand with a wash basin and pitcher.
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Old 12-17-2012, 09:03 PM
 
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So basically personal hygiene used to be what it is like in France today. j/k
I do wonder if people were so used to the smell that maybe it didn't bother them that much as it might someone today. After all, people were getting together and making babies so it couldn't have been too bad.
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Old 12-17-2012, 10:07 PM
 
3,280 posts, read 4,600,818 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Clark Park View Post
Toilet paper wasn't even invented until about 1880, and not commonly used until the first or second decade of the Twentienth Century. What did they use? A personal rag, or pieces of torn up newspaper.
It is well known that people also wiped their behind, with corn cobs. Most of the US population were farmers.
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