Before indoor plumbing was the Saturday bath

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By Horace E. Hobbs

Hampton Union, June 6, 1984

The greatest inconvenience of living in my boyhood day and age was the absence of a running water system and inadequate sewer system in the house. This is what I believe made the Saturday night bath an institution.

Most people had hand pumps that sucked water into the sink from a driven well or raised by rope and pulley from a dug well outside and brought by hand into the house in the "old oaken bucket." For a warm water bath, receptacles were filled and put on top of the kitchen stove to get warm.

The galvanized iron washtub was placed in front of the kitchen stove for warmth and then filled with right-temperatured bath water. Then you stepped into the tub and dunked yourself as well as could be expected and proceeded to bathe (they called it). From your cramped position in the tub, you were warm in the kitchen. For the others had either gone to bed or were snug in the living room around a tintype, woodburning stove.

With these conditions, no wonder that baths were only once a week and the old swimming hole was an excellent substitute for keeping clean.

I neglected to say that when you were through you couldn't just pull the plug and let the water drain out, but the tub had to be emptied in the same manner that it had been filled -- by hand.

It is no wonder then that under these conditions bath night had to be scheduled for privacy.

For simple daily washing of hands face, etc., there was often a wash basin (a small receptacle) under the sink that was taken out and used for minor ablutions. After washing the water went "down the drain" to the cesspool outside, which was just a large covered hole in the ground dug to receive wastewater.

In "my time" inside toilets were not common, but there was the outhouse outside. To get to one of our toilets, we simply had to go through the shed to get to the attached two-seater. This was not so bad, but the second toilet was really "outside" in a detached henhouse and hardy had to be the soul who had to go outside, particularly in the winter to use this convenience (?). This did have two regular size holes and one built lower down for the children.

Of course the excrement simply fell into a whole dug in the ground to receive it. Some people in the spring, inadvisably, shoveled out the accumulation and like the Orientals with their "honey buckets," used the waste for fertilizer. Common toilet paper was not always so common, and sometimes newspapers, a Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogue and even a box of corncobs found uncommon use for which they were not intended.

For washing in the bedroom, in the morning, there was usually a commode. This was a wooden price of furniture to receive the wash basin, which was either a pure white or prettily decorated porcelain receptacle into which you poured the water from a matching pitcher for washing in the bowl. There was also usually a covered matching soapdish. After you had completed the morning wash, often without hot water, the waste water was emptied into a so-called "slop jar". This was usually a metal and covered receptacle into which, later, were emptied the wastes from the "pottie" under the bed, if it had been used at night. For reasons best realized by its users, this "pottie" was sometimes called a "thunder jug" and sometimes a "whistling pitcher." The last call in the morning chores was "don't forget to empty the slop jar."

Truthfully, were these really "the days?"

Horace E. Hobbs writes from time to time about life in Hampton around the turn of the century.

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