This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

19th Century Baths

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Bathing in the 19th century was very different from today. For one thing, people didn't have running water in their homes. Water was cold unless you had the time and ability to heat it beforehand. They didn't take baths as often as we do today. Bathing was a luxury. The poor and middle class would go at least a week, maybe longer. The wealthy would bathe more often, as they had the ability.

If they lived in rural communities, commoners would bathe in natural water, especially in the summer when it was hot. They would find a secluded spot in a river or lake and bathe, especially if they were traveling across country out west. It's all they had and they were grateful for the opportunity.

In the more populated villages and towns, and during colder seasons, water was boiled in pots over the fire and poured into a bathtub for those that could afford a bathtub. Bath water was shared. The head of household would be first and he would get the fresh warm water, and then the next person according to station. The bathtub on the left is from the Jacob Kelley house in Hartsville, SC. The photo below it is of the drainage hole at the foot of the tub. They would take the tub outside and pull the plug to drain it. This allowed them to take a bath in the comfort of their home, maybe by the fireplace where they would be warmer.

Wealthy families that could afford more than one bathtub, would have servants or slaves prepare a bath for individuals more often, and they didn't share bath water as often as the commoners. While some things change a great deal, other things never change. Even today, the wealthy can afford great luxurys that the rest of us cannot.

One thing that is still the same is infants and small children were given baths separately from adults. Like today, children were messy eaters and probably got into a lot of dirt and filth playing outside around the house, with farm animals and in the barns. Since it wasn't unusual for a family to have as many as 7-13 children, it would have been harder to keep up with the small ones. Everyone would have been responsible for looking out for the little ones. Below is a photo of a child's bathtub, also from the Jacob Kelley house. Notice how this tub is round and much smaller with a white round base that was probably meant to catch the splashing water from playful children.


I can identify with your statement: "Even today, the wealthy can afford great luxurys that the rest of us cannot." We live in a mountain valley that has been through a drought since 1992. We are slowly pulling out of it, finally, but with no water, not even enough one year to grow weeds, the water table has lowered to a startling low that has forced some of us to haul water though we live in towns around our valley. Many have had to drill deeper water wells, if there is money (thus your statement above) though some in the country who have no electricity OR water, it is a way of life for them to haul water, use generators occasionally, and go to bed with the chickens so to speak.

We have been among them who hauled water for several years before our Church Assembly put in a well for a couple of us who were without except for hauling.

I certainly have come to appreciate water every day, every time I turn the faucet handle up or go to do a load of laundry or simply flush the stool. Though it is a year since our well was drilled, I'm still thankful beyond measure. Perhaps if I had grown up in the early 1900's it wouldn't have made such an impression as it did by growing up with that 'luxury' and then doing without for several years.

Thanks Jennifer! I've been looking for information regarding nineteenth century bathtubs and you had exactly what I needed.

We have a deep well and yet I am still careful with our water is a blessing, and not to be wasted. We also have a good spring on this property that keeps our wildlife friends well supplied.