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Egyptians built elaborate bathrooms inside pyramids.

The year: 1500 BC or so. So says John C. Flood.

The ancient Romans had toilets.

Roman Public Toilets. [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of wikipedia]

Roman Public Toilets. [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of wikipedia]

Wealthy people in the Middle Ages had toilets.

The garderobe at Peveril Castle, Derbyshire, England. The chute visible at the lower-center of image allows waste to fall outside the castle (in the moat or pit and away from the sleeping chambers). [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikipedia]

The garderobe at Peveril Castle, Derbyshire, England. The chute visible at the lower-center of image allows waste to fall outside the castle (in the moat or pit and away from the bedchambers). [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikipedia]

Garderobe interior, shared from flicker.

A garderobe interior (unidentified castle), shared from Flickr.

The Queen had a toilet.

So did Queen Elizabeth I at Richmond Palace, circa 1600. Her flushable toilet was installed by her godson, inventor Sir John Harington.

The Lady Elizabeth in about 1546, by an unknown artist (When Elizabeth I was a Princess) [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikipedia}

The Lady Elizabeth in about 1546, by an unknown artist (When Elizabeth I was a Princess) [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikipedia]

So did lots of other people.

In 1775 Alexander Cummings, a watchmaker, developed the S-shaped pipe under the toilet basin to keep out the foul odours [sic].

Alexander Cumming, Clockmaker, and known for designing the flush toilet. Lived 1731 to 1814. [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikipedia]

Alexander Cumming, Clockmaker, and known for designing the flush toilet. Lived 1731 to 1814. [Image: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikipedia]

In 1829, The Tremont Hotel in Boston was the first of its kind to provide eight water closets for guest use

Tremont House at Tremont and Beacon Streets c 1860 to 1890. Courtesy of the Bostonian Society

Tremont House at Tremont and Beacon Streets c 1860 to 1890. This fine hotel was the first recognized as providing indoor plumbing facilities. Image: Courtesy of the Bostonian Society.

In 1833, the White House was plumbed (on the ground floor) with running water.

Etching of the White House, Dec 8, 1833. Image: Library of Congress via McClatchy DC

Etching of the White House, Dec 8, 1833. Image: Library of Congress via McClatchy DC

In the 1840‘s, the finest of American homes had indoor plumbing (including flushing toilets), running hot and cold water, and all the conveniences such as bathtubs.

…but!…

“In 1920 only 1% of U.S. homes had electricity and indoor plumbing.”

~ Lest We Forget, a Short History of Housing in the United States, Abstract, page 2

Note: the conjunction ‘and’ betwixt electricity and indoor plumbing implies that in 1920 the houses had to have both to qualify for that 1%. Feel free to read the document and let me know if you gather different information.

Note: Prior to cities providing sewer systems, individual homes had septic tanks.

I toured the Flavel House in Astoria, Oregon (see this post too), and found the original decor of the bathroom facilities fascinating. On both the first and second stories, the toilets are built into a decorative wooden cabinet, much as the bathtub is, below. A lid shut over the bowl and seat of the toilet (much like we have today, but it covered the entire cabinet that extended well beyond today’s oval rims). The seat was finished wood, as was the lid. The toilet paper dispenser (if memory serves) was also in a bowl-like depression beneath the over-encompassing lid. When closed, the toilet appeared much like a wooden cabinet (see left-hand side of second image, below. The two signs are standing immediately behind the toilet lid). The following two images are two different views of the same upstairs bathroom in the Flavel House. [built 1884-1885]

The Captain George Flavel House in Astoria, Oregon, is a fine example of a restored Victorian Queen Anne house, with a full bath upstairs and a half-bath on the main floor.

The Captain George Flavel House in Astoria, Oregon, is a fine example of a restored Victorian Queen Anne house, with a full bath upstairs and a half-bath on the main floor.

This photo of Flavel House Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The Molly Brown House, built 1889 (Denver), “contained all the modern technology of the day including electricity, indoor plumbing, steam heat and telephone lines“.

Molly Brown House Exterior.

Molly Brown House Exterior. Image: Molly Brown House Museum

Proper Plumbing Techniques.

Near the end of the following article about a new hotel in New York City, see the references to proper plumbing techniques. In case this scanned image is difficult to read, I’ve transcribed the ‘paragraph’ I’d like you to see, below.

Fireproof hotel has bathing tubs and pipes to waste-pipes to sewer. The New York Times. Ny Ny. 30 May 1875

Fireproof hotel has bathing tubs and pipes to waste-pipes to sewer. The New York Times of New York, New York, on May 30th, 1875.

Transcription of the last segment of the article, immediately above, regarding plumbing of the Buckingham Hotel:

“…The plumbing arrangements have been very carefully considered and thoroughly executed, and everything connected with them is of the most complete description. All waste-pipes are double-trapped so as to prevent the possibility of odors arising from the sewer. There are more bathing tubs in this house than in any other of the same-size in the world, and every part has all the conveniences in modern plumbing that can possibly be devised in a hotel.”

.

~ The New York Times, May 30th, 1875 (referencing Buckingham Hotel) [source: newspapers.com]

This 1884 illustration shows proper plumbing of a home. (note: same year as Flavel House [Mansion] was built)

 “Woman’s Sphere,” illustration from Harriette Merrick Hodge Plunkett, Women, Plumbers, and Doctors: Or, Household Sanitation, 1884. Shared from Barbara Penner, PlacesJournal.org


“Woman’s Sphere,” illustration from Harriette Merrick Hodge Plunkett, Women, Plumbers, and Doctors: Or, Household Sanitation, 1884. Shared from Barbara Penner, PlacesJournal.org. Notice the flushing cistern (high tank) above the toilets.

The historical floor plans I purchased to reference when writing LESSIE: BRIDE OF UTAH (The American Mail-Order Brides Series) showed an upper-middle-class family home with two bathrooms: a full bath on the main level and a half-bath on the second floor. As Lessie’s circumstances in her youth had not been comfortable, she’d never had the luxury of an indoor bathroom, much less running hot and cold water and the ability to take a full bath daily. I made sure she had the chance to savor a hot bath in her new home…and make the scene do double- or triple-duty as her husband becomes acquainted with his mail-order bride. (It’s a ‘clean’ book! [pun intended]–mildly sensual, kissing, tender falling-in-love emotions, a bit of longing, but nothing further.)

"Lessie's House", contained within the book: Houses and Cottages, Book 10, by D.S. Hopkins of Grand Rapids, MI, 1896.

“Lessie’s House”, a Queen Anne Victorian contained within the book: Houses and Cottages, book no 10, designed by D.S. Hopkins, Architect  of Grand Rapids, MI, 1896.

Lessie's House, floor plain, main level.

“Lessie’s House” floor plan, main level. Note the “Bath Rm.” (a full bath in today’s terminology) left-hand side.

Lessie's House, floor plan, second story.

“Lessie’s House” floor plan, second story. Note the “lavatory” (half-bath in today’s vernacular) on the back right-hand corner of the house, overlooking the sloped roof below.

Tip: to my fellow writers— I used this floor plan extensively when writing Lessie’s story, particularly in the scenes where Richard Cannon shows his new wife the home he had built for her, and the scenes that occurred inside the house. I had the distinct pleasure of beta readers telling me they could easily “see” the house. No confusion in the author, no confusion in the reader.

Portable Gilded Age Toilets.

In Lessie’s twin’s book (JOSIE: BRIDE OF NEW MEXICO), I enjoyed writing luxury railway travel, with a private rail car equipped with not one private bathroom (for the family) but two (for the help).

Bathroom in private rail car, circa 1890. On the right-hand side of the image, a doorway is open into the chamber beyond. Note the plumbed sink (and radiant heat water pipes below).

Bathroom in private rail car, circa 1890. On the right-hand side of the image, a doorway is open into the chamber beyond. Note the plumbed sink (and radiant heat water pipes below). [Image: Pinterest]

What are your thoughts about indoor plumbing in the Victorian Era? Any tidbits to add? Please scroll down to the space provided for feedback and responses.

Sites of interest:

  1. Clatsop County Historical Society’s Flavel House (because there is more than one Flavel House in Astoria, this is one is sometimes referred to as “Mansion”)
  2. Molly Brown House Museum

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Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt, LC

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