Posts Tagged ‘outhouse’

We recently talked about answering the call of nature a century ago. However, there was much more to tending to these grooming habits than just going. Let’s take a quick look:

1. Toilet paper as we know it today did not exist. So what did they use? This is where the ultimate bathroom reading material began. Magazine and newspapers were kept nearby to clean up with once finished. I’ve often heard about family members using the Sears Catalogue for such needs. The Farmer’s Almanac actually punched a hole in it. This was allow it to be hung up in the outhouse for such needs.

Sears Catalogue

2. Some of the very poor may have kept strips of cloth to use. Unfortunately, these items would later have to be cleaned and sanitized for reuse. The really poor may have had nothing more than there hand to use. I recently read that in India the left hand was used, but in Africa the white hand. This is because the opposite hand was used for greeting others. Imagine how offended the other person would become if you offered the wrong hand.

3. Many other items were used such as grass, water, moss, hay, seashells, wood shavings, and a sponge. These were varied based on the person, region they lived, and economic status to name just a few. For example, in Hawaii they used coconut husks.

You could always use a handful of this moss

4. The toilet could not just be flushed, so someone had to clean these systems out. A hole had to be dug, someone had to collect the waste, or a way had to be found to dispose of the remains. These are just a few ways people of the past took care of this issue. My grandmother remembers the man that came around to “collect” the bucket that was used as the septic system.

5. What about the smell? My grandmother has told me that they used lime. When leaving the outhouse a person would sprinkle a scoop of lime over the contents. I’d think that if it did not have to be used again right away, keeping the door open might help with the smell.

Lime Powder

Another reminder of how much we have to be thankful for and the way times have changed. What would you have used for cleaning? How about for the smell?

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We’re spoiled today. We’re use to indoor plumbing. If the bathroom is not to our liking, we complain and wait until we find the next one. In 1912, indoor plumbing was almost completely unheard of.

So how did they take care of their personal needs?

1. Water closets—these were a primitive version of the modern day bathroom. Most only had a toilet. They did not flush and someone would have to empty the chamber on a regular basis to keep it from smelling. How would you like that job?

2. Outhouse—these were still very common, especially upon the poor. Regardless of the time of day or the weather when nature called, out to the outhouse you’d trod. Outhouses could have one hole or two holes. It was like stepping into a large cabinet or closet to do your business. My grandmother remembers going out to the outhouse until sometime in her teen years, around the beginning of WWII. She shared with me that a man would come around each week and empty the cans that held the waste.


Two holer outhouse

3. Chamber pot—a chamber pot was often a bowl or pot that was used. It was a lot easier to have on hand in the middle of the night or on a cold, winter day. These had to be emptied on a regular basis. My mother remembers her grandmother keeping one by her bedside in the mid-20th Century. Today they have been redesigned as a bed pan for the ill and invalids.

Chamber Pot

4. Slop jar—used very similarly to the chamber pot. It was just a large jar instead.

Slop Jar

So the next time nature calls, remember how much you have to be thankful for that you don’t have to run outside in the snow or use a bowl to later empty.

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