After reading this post, I love my 21st century toilet. I might have to go hug it (in a nice way) while Kathy gives y’all some groovy history on the potty.
I’ve left my comments throughout the post in hot pink. I’ll see you down at the bottom (Ha!) for the cool game Kathy’s got ready for you. 🙂
Hi, everyone! Jenny has kindly offered to host me today. Maybe the word “toilet” in my list of topic suggestions helped seal the deal…after all, Jenny is Queen of the Undie-verse here at More Cowbell.
And besides, it’s a fun topic, right? It satisfies that little kid curiosity. When I watched the Apollo launches on television as a child, I remember wondering how the astronauts went to the bathroom in space.
But that’s another blog post, LOL. Back to the nineteenth century. Let’s first look at the way things were before the toilet came into being.
Before the toilet:
Up until the invention of the flush toilet (the first American patent was granted in 1857, although there were other versions out there before that), there were two civilized options when you had to go: the chamber pot (generally for middle-of-the-night and sickroom use) and the outdoor privy/outhouse.
As you might imagine, there were problems with both methods: the chamber pot required emptying (usually into the street or outdoor drain – look out where you step!), and the privy was typically latrine-style, where a deep hole was dug, which would eventually fill up, and then a new one had to be dug.
Also with the privy, the noxious gas backed up and became quite unpleasant, despite the lime and other materials used to dissipate the odor. In addition, substances could seep into the household’s well water if the placement was “ill-considered.”
*Jenny…thanking the ‘Powers that Be’ for making her a 21st century gal*
Toilets and the dreaded “sewer gas”:
The indoor flush toilet grew in popularity from the 1870s, when most cities had the sewer systems to support them. The urban environment, in fact, is what created the necessity of the indoor toilet: apartment dwellings and tenements were multi-storied, and new buildings were only getting taller. Climbing down multiple flights of stairs to outhouses outside the buildings’ ground floor was highly impractical.
It was also easier from a waste water management point of view, so that slops and offal weren’t discarded in the street, to mix with rainwater and run into the rivers and streams and spread disease.
Note: See the photo of The Knickerbocker Avenue Extension Sewer, Brooklyn, N.Y. below.
However, some physicians and health officials worried about indoor toilets, specifically the problem of sewer gas, which could backup into the toilet’s drain pipe. Here’s an excerpt from an 1898 article on “Home Sanitation” by Louise Harvey, M.D.:
“To the drainage of the house too much attention cannot be paid. The plumbing is best placed entirely outside of the main part of the house, and separated from it by an air space into which the sunshine and air have free access…. Many people are obliged to live in houses where the lavatories are enclosed in the main part of the house, or, as Dr Price puts it, “in enlarged water-closets.” To these people we would say that much may be done to obviate their contaminative influence, first by keeping the plumbing in perfect condition; second, by keeping the bowls and traps clean, and third, by ventilation….” Western Journal of Medicine, “The Insidious Foe – sewer gas”
Inventors fiddled with various designs to overcome the problem of sewer gas entering the home. It was Thomas Crapper (I kid you not; you’ve probably heard of him) who finally solved the problem with the “U” shaped trap in 1880. The water in the trap created a seal to keep the sewer gases out. (You see, however, that the physician quoted above, writing in 1898, was still worried about it).
*Jenny…dying over here that Thomas Crapper is a real dude.*
The prevalence of the flushable toilet brought about another phenomenon: toilet paper.
In the old days, sitting on a seat connected to a hole in the ground in the backyard meant that leaves, corncobs, moss, newspaper, the Sears Roebuck catalog, etc, were good candidates for cleaning up. The idea of paying for a product to wipe one’s bum and throw into a hole along with the rest of the mess seemed the height of absurdity. After all, one can get old catalog pages for free.
*Jenny…delighted to avoid the dreaded 19th century “catalog-tushy”*
Folks quickly learned, however, that these substances don’t flush down the drain pipe very well. Thus, toilet paper became a necessity not so much because it was cleaner to use on oneself (a claim the early manufacturers had tried to make without much success), but because it wouldn’t clog the pipes.
People listened to their plumber more than their doctor, apparently.
For more on the history of toilet paper, check out “Toilet Paper: how America Convinced the World to Wipe.”
Want more potty info?
Okay, bring on the potty humor! I know this crowd, LOL. Jenny and I want to snort over read your comments!
Thanks, Jenny, for having me on as your guest. I’m flushed with excitement! 😉
Thanks, Kathy!! And people…there’s a GAME. I love games! Kathy has left a trail of clues on her blog hop. Let me explain…
Each stop in K.B. Owen’s book launch tour has a mystery question to answer. When you have them all, unscramble the answers to which ROOM, WEAPON, and SUSPECT, and email Kathy at kbowenwriter(at)gmail(dot)com. (Must email by April 1st!)
She’ll announce the winner (chosen from the correct entries) at Karen McFarland’s blog, the last stop of the tour.
What do you win? A free ebook copy of Dangerous and Unseemly, and a $25 gift card of your choice to either Starbucks, Amazon, or Barnes &Noble! (I’m so bummed I can’t participate…I am a Ho for Amazon cards!!)
If you run into a few stumpers – no problem! Check out her Mystery Quizzes page for links to the answers. Here’s where the trail of clues are strewn so far:
- February 25th at Mystery Writing is Murder with Elizabeth Craig
- February 27th/Janice Hamrick’s ~ Blog on Perry Mason
- March 1st/Jill Edmondson’s ~ Blog on Nancy Drew
- March 5th/Margot Kinberg’s ~ Blog on 19th century con men
- March 6th/Nancy Lauzon’s ~ Blog about Kathy’s heroine, Concordia Wells
- March 8th/Renee Schuls-Jacobson’s Author interview with K.B. Owen
- March 13th/Julie Glover’s Blog on the Language of 19th century Spirit Mediums
And now she’s moved to us! Our More Cowbell clue…
Agatha Christie’s detective, Hercule Poirot, favored this method of detection:
U) examining physical evidence, such as footprints and tobacco ash
V) using the little gray cells
W) beating a confession out of the murderer
X) relying on eyewitness testimony
If you would also like to read it and love it, click the link of your choice below:
BUY FROM SMASHWORDS (versions readable on iPad, Nook, Kindle, computer, Sony, Palm devices, and more)
BUY FROM SCRIBD
What people are saying about “Dangerous and Unseemly”:
Absorbing in its memorable characters, non-stop plot twists, and depiction of life in a late-nineteenth century women’s college, Dangerous and Unseemly is a suspenseful and engaging contribution to the cozy historical mystery genre. Fans of Harriet Vane and Maisie Dobbs will find in Concordia Wells a new heroine to fall in love with.
Are you as happy with your 21st century potty right now as I am with mine? Do you have any questions for Kathy? And what is the craziest place you ever tinkled? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!
About K.B. Owen:
K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A mystery lover since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. No doubt many people are thankful about that.
She now resides in Virginia with her husband and three sons. She recently finished the second book in the series, and is busily planning Concordia’s next adventure. Check out her website for more historical mystery fun: kbowenmysteries.com