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  #1  
Old 12-29-2007, 05:48 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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How did people wipe on chamber pots?

So I was watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice and wondered - okay, I get that in the outhouse when my dad was a kid there were some Sears Roebuck catalogs and a bin of corn cobs. But when you kept a pot under your bed, how did you, you know, go about your business? In the Indian fashion, with a pitcher of water? Surely you didn't use toilet paper, right?
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  #2  
Old 12-29-2007, 06:19 PM
Beware of Doug Beware of Doug is offline
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Maybe one used the contents of the accompanying jug in some fashion (assuming said contents were not pee).
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Old 12-29-2007, 06:57 PM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
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I thought chamberpots were only used for number 1. To do number 2 one had to got out to the privy or bushs.
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  #4  
Old 12-29-2007, 08:33 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is online now
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In sub-zero weather in the middle of the night I have a feeling chamber pots may have been used for #2 at times even if only intended for #1
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  #5  
Old 12-29-2007, 08:37 PM
Beware of Doug Beware of Doug is offline
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After which, what? One was forced to remain stank-ass until such time as decent people saw fit to bathe?
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  #6  
Old 12-29-2007, 08:40 PM
eenerms eenerms is offline
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I was on a historical tour of Antwerp, the guide said 'back in the day' there they used mussel shells .
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  #7  
Old 12-29-2007, 08:49 PM
A.R. Cane A.R. Cane is offline
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Think about it, when's the last time you got up in the middle of the night to take a dump? Not saying it never happened, but chamber pots were primarily for urination, and if an emergency required then you'd use TP, or whatever else was customary.
I was 12 years old before we moved into a house w/ indoor plumbing. Going to the outhouse may seem strange today, but if that's what you live w/ it just seems natural.
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  #8  
Old 12-29-2007, 08:51 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick
In sub-zero weather in the middle of the night I have a feeling chamber pots may have been used for #2 at times even if only intended for #1
No kidding - if it's snowing outside and I'm six floors up, I'm pooping in the pot. Sorry, bedmates. (This is a situation where the classic genre of SDMB rants, the "How dare you make noises and smells in the public restroom", would really come into play.) And even with just urine, was there no expectation of women wiping at all? I would think the acidic qualities of urine might be a problem.
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  #9  
Old 12-29-2007, 10:17 PM
A.R. Cane A.R. Cane is offline
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Just to clarify, chamber pots had lids.
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  #10  
Old 12-29-2007, 11:11 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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Originally Posted by A.R. Cane
Just to clarify, chamber pots had lids.
Not while you were on 'em, they didn't! God, can you imagine? Bad enough when Himself gets up in the middle of the night to pee and causes all this noise and moves the covers and all - imagine if he were doing it in a pot that he dragged out from under the bed! Although I guess in some ways it would be quieter.
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  #11  
Old 12-30-2007, 02:50 AM
Miss Purl McKnittington Miss Purl McKnittington is offline
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I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe residents of the chamber pot years had a slightly higher tolerance for urine and feces than modern-day people do. Considering the open sewers and larger number of draft animals and that pisspots were sometimes put into the corners of dining rooms and parlors for the convenience of men, I'd assume that even delicate members of society would be exposed to waste products more often than we are today.

As the saying goes, shit happens, and I can't imagine members of society constantly throwing the tizzies some people have today over the slightest trace of urine. Either you get over it or you invent some way of carrying it away.

People were also advised to bathe the dirty areas of the body morning and night, meaning the face, hands, feet, underarms, and groin. It wasn't the full immersion bath or shower we're accustomed to today, but they didn't walk around for an entire week miring in their own juices.

That all said, if we don't know exactly what women did for their periods, it might prove difficult to nail down a concrete answer as to what they wiped with for midnight calls of nature. Unless they happened to have, you know, a goose lying around.
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  #12  
Old 12-30-2007, 09:02 PM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is offline
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How are you supposed to use a chamber pot, anyway? Hover over it, Indian style, or fully sit on it?

The following picture is probably SFW, but just in case:

Go to this page and scroll down to #95, click on "Enlarge Picture" and observe the scene. Is this poetic license on the part of the artist, or is this how it was done?

Last edited by HeyHomie; 12-30-2007 at 09:03 PM..
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  #13  
Old 12-30-2007, 09:25 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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I don't know, but that's a ridiculously charming picture, I think. Does that make me sick in the head? I think it's really sweet.
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  #14  
Old 12-30-2007, 09:27 PM
Moirai Moirai is offline
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Why are people assuming that there was no toilet paper?
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  #15  
Old 12-30-2007, 10:09 PM
Cluricaun Cluricaun is offline
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Why would anyone poop in a chamber pot? Sure people may have been used to hardier living back then, but nobody wants to sleep in a room that has shit sitting around in it. That would be unbearable. Imagine going to a hotel and grabbing the ice bucket off of the counter and beaming down a shatner into that, and then what? Sticking it under the bed? Sure, it has a lid and all that extra stuff but I'd be willing to bet that you wouldn't dig the smell and neither would people back in the day. Chamber pots would have been for urine only, nobody is sleeping with a turd.
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  #16  
Old 12-30-2007, 10:58 PM
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I don't know why the answer to this question isn't just that they used a cloth. If you have to wash out a chamber pot why would it be such a horror to wash out a cloth while you're at it?
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  #17  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:38 AM
stw004 stw004 is offline
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Of course theres always the obvious, if your gonna get up and drop a load in the chamber pot at 4 a.m. it wouldn't be real difficult to walk to the nearest window and just dump it out, i suppose though if you were on the highest level of a multi story building you could end up with some VERY disgruntled neighbors. But like Grampa used to say "Shit only rolls down hill and such is life."
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  #18  
Old 12-31-2007, 01:14 AM
susan susan is offline
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"Gardyloo!"

Last edited by Shoshana; 12-31-2007 at 01:14 AM..
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  #19  
Old 12-31-2007, 04:54 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cluricaun
Why would anyone poop in a chamber pot?
As I said - sub-zero weather, dark night, have to crap NOW!!! Never intended to imply that it was routine, just that it happened. Also, the elderly or an invalid might have used one in such a manner for the same reason hospitals still have bedpans

Quote:
Sure people may have been used to hardier living back then, but nobody wants to sleep in a room that has shit sitting around in it. That would be unbearable.
Right - in an era when horse, dog, and various other forms of dung built up daily in the streets? Cities used to STINK on a level I don't think the average person today can really understand.

Quote:
Imagine going to a hotel and grabbing the ice bucket off of the counter and beaming down a shatner into that, and then what? Sticking it under the bed? Sure, it has a lid and all that extra stuff but I'd be willing to bet that you wouldn't dig the smell and neither would people back in the day. Chamber pots would have been for urine only, nobody is sleeping with a turd.
Yes, it has a lid. In the era prior to central heating it probably chilled down rapidly in winter which would mitigate some of the smell. Anyhow, why do you think things like potpourri were invented? To help cover objectionable smells.
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  #20  
Old 12-31-2007, 05:53 AM
susan susan is offline
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The description of the smell of the city in the beginning of Süskind's Perfume might help:
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In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces.The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master’s wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter.
Emphasis added.

Last edited by Shoshana; 12-31-2007 at 05:55 AM..
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  #21  
Old 12-31-2007, 08:25 AM
Cluricaun Cluricaun is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick
Anyhow, why do you think things like potpourri were invented? To help cover objectionable smells.
I suppose that you're right, I just have a really hard time wrapping my mind around this one. Thank god for indoor plumbing.
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  #22  
Old 12-31-2007, 08:32 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EJsGirl
Why are people assuming that there was no toilet paper?
Well, was there? There wasn't in the country when my dad was a kid, but then they were poor.
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  #23  
Old 12-31-2007, 09:09 AM
Chez Guevara Chez Guevara is offline
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Originally Posted by Miss Purl McKnittington
That all said, if we don't know exactly what women did for their periods, it might prove difficult to nail down a concrete answer as to what they wiped with for midnight calls of nature. Unless they happened to have, you know, a goose lying around.
Thanks for this:

Quote:
"Afterwards I wiped my tail with a hen, with a cock, with a pullet, with a calf's skin, with a hare, with a pigeon, with a cormorant, with an attorney's bag, with a montero, with a coif, with a falconer's lure. But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains." (from Gargantua, 1534)
My own technique now seems decidedly unimaginative.

Thanks also for motivating me to look up Gargantua in Wikipedia, where I discover this concise synopsis of the 5th book in the Pantagruel/Gargantua series:

Quote:
At the end of the fifth volume, which was published posthumously around 1564, the divine bottle is found. The epic journey ends with Pantagruel producing a large piece of shit.....
Sadly, the synopsis fails to record whether our hero used a chamber pot as a receptacle for his produce, or indeed which unfortunate beast was employed by him to wipe away the detritus from his nether regions.
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  #24  
Old 12-31-2007, 10:04 AM
Moirai Moirai is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zsofia
Well, was there? There wasn't in the country when my dad was a kid, but then they were poor.

Well, it's been around in it's almost-current form for about 150 years (first factory-made TP was produced in 1857), but I guess not everybody used it...
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  #25  
Old 12-31-2007, 10:13 AM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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"Nockhole". Heh heh.
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  #26  
Old 12-31-2007, 10:22 AM
Philster Philster is offline
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Go to a slum in a third-world country, where many millions of people live. They eat and sleep in filth. They share the filthy spaces with animals, fleas, rats, wild dogs and their stinky bodies, all packed into tight quarters. The children play in it. The whole place stinks like something you can't imagine.

You don't need to time travel to answer questions spurred by the OP.

Last edited by Philster; 12-31-2007 at 10:22 AM..
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  #27  
Old 12-31-2007, 10:33 AM
Tully Mars Tully Mars is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Purl McKnittington
Unless they happened to have, you know, a goose lying around.
I'm laughing my ass off imagining someone trying to catch the goose the second time around. The first time, the poor, unsuspecting goose might be easy enough to catch, but the second time ...?
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  #28  
Old 12-31-2007, 11:37 AM
dangermom dangermom is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cluricaun
Why would anyone poop in a chamber pot? Sure people may have been used to hardier living back then, but nobody wants to sleep in a room that has shit sitting around in it.
Further information: in early to mid-Victorian London, it was the practice for nightsoil men to come around and take people's poop for a fee, which would then be carted to the edge of town and sold. It was quite common for a house to have a cesspit underneath, which was essentially a basement you filled with poop until you had someone come and take it away by the ton.

Eventually, however, London grew to the point that the nightsoil men had to charge unacceptably high prices for their services (because it was such a long way to the edge of town), and many landlords stopped paying for it. In the poorer areas (and I don't mean just slums, I mean the lower middle classes as well), human waste just piled up in cesspits, courtyards, and streets. In a house with several flats, poor people lived on the bottom floors with the filth, and middle-class types lived on the upper floors where it was cleaner.

Between the piles of filth and the elderly water pipes, the results were that most Londoners were in the habit of consuming poop on a daily basis. Poor people frequently dipped their water right from the pits, since there wasn't anywhere else to get it, but the ordinary water pumps situated every few blocks were frequently contaminated too. Even wealthy people couldn't avoid it, really. And so when someone brought cholera to London, it spread easily.

The story of the cholera and how London eventually dealt with its sewage problem is a fascinating one. It took decades, and even the Great Stink didn't spur immediate action.

Last edited by dangermom; 12-31-2007 at 11:37 AM..
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  #29  
Old 12-31-2007, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Tully Mars
I'm laughing my ass off imagining someone trying to catch the goose the second time around. The first time, the poor, unsuspecting goose might be easy enough to catch, but the second time ...?
.....and an attorneys bag......

"C'mere ya bastard lawyer, I'm, gonna wipe my nockhole on yer bag"
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  #30  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:05 PM
Annie-Xmas Annie-Xmas is offline
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  #31  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:08 PM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zsofia
So I was watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice and wondered - okay, I get that in the outhouse when my dad was a kid there were some Sears Roebuck catalogs and a bin of corn cobs. But when you kept a pot under your bed, how did you, you know, go about your business? In the Indian fashion, with a pitcher of water? Surely you didn't use toilet paper, right?
Where I grew up, in an undeveloped country, water is used for washing more that toilet paper or cobs. A pot with a snout is kept next to the chamber pot.
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  #32  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:30 PM
Cluricaun Cluricaun is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dangermom
Further information: in early to mid-Victorian London, it was the practice for nightsoil men to come around and take people's poop for a fee, which would then be carted to the edge of town and sold.
This thread is fun and it's making me think, but who on Earth purchased poop?!?! For what reason?

I have this horrible scene in my mind now of a farmers market shop stall with all sorts of turds strung up like sausages. "Poo here, get your poo here, all shapes, all sizes, get your poo here!"
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  #33  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:38 PM
Spit Spit is offline
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Originally Posted by Miss Purl McKnittington
That all said, if we don't know exactly what women did for their periods....
My Grandmother owned (which has since passed to her sister) a diary that her Great-Grandmother (Maybe Great-Great) kept when they first moved west. One of the entries was that (and I summarize here) she had, in the rush of packing, forgotten her extra cloths for menstruation, and had to borrow from her sister-in-law. (whom apparently she did not care for that much)

That would only have been 30 years or so from the setting of P&P, so I would assume most women did the same thing?
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  #34  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:47 PM
monstro monstro is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cluricaun
This thread is fun and it's making me think, but who on Earth purchased poop?!?! For what reason?
Fertilizer, is my guess.
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  #35  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:59 PM
Cluricaun Cluricaun is offline
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Originally Posted by monstro
Fertilizer, is my guess.
Which is the only thing I could think of, but surely there was enough crap around from animals and the like that nobody would have that great of need for a few human turds.
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  #36  
Old 12-31-2007, 01:00 PM
gaucho gaucho is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cluricaun
This thread is fun and it's making me think, but who on Earth purchased poop?!?! For what reason?

I have this horrible scene in my mind now of a farmers market shop stall with all sorts of turds strung up like sausages. "Poo here, get your poo here, all shapes, all sizes, get your poo here!"
Tanners. Not a good job.
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Old 12-31-2007, 01:05 PM
Cluricaun Cluricaun is offline
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Originally Posted by gaucho
Tanners. Not a good job.
Tanners? As in animal hides? I've seen it done on deer hide and I don't recall having to smear poop on them. What purpose would human feces serve in the process of making leather?
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  #38  
Old 12-31-2007, 01:42 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cluricaun
I suppose that you're right, I just have a really hard time wrapping my mind around this one. Thank god for indoor plumbing.
Well, if you think poo in the chamber pot is bad, people used to save urine until it went "stale" (turned to ammonia) and use it as a cleaning agent. Particularly for things like sheep fleeces (I'm mean, a sheep has been living in that wool, and they don't use toilet paper...) Inuit were known to use it as a shampoo. It's a great degreaser
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  #39  
Old 12-31-2007, 02:00 PM
dangermom dangermom is offline
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It's my understanding that the poo was sold to farmers.

As it happens, I'm reading a nice little autobiography by a woman who grew up in my area 100 years ago. I just read the part about chores, and here is part of what she wrote about ironing day:
Quote:
If, by the time I came home from school, the ironing wasn't finished...I was given the assignment of doing the table napkins and handkerchiefs. Once I had reached the age of menstruation, this was the time for me to do up my bundle of sanitary napkins. Mother or Grandmother stood guard to make sure my brother, his friends, or a boy cousin didn't burst into the kitchen while I was taking care of this monthly chore. I assume Mother took care of hers while we were in school because I never saw her ironing her own sanitary supplies.
So it seems that each woman was responsible for caring for her own personal supply of cloths, right up until the paper ones were developed. Here, it would have been about 1910.
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Old 12-31-2007, 02:00 PM
Spit Spit is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick
Well, if you think poo in the chamber pot is bad, people used to save urine until it went "stale" (turned to ammonia) and use it as a cleaning agent. Particularly for things like sheep fleeces (I'm mean, a sheep has been living in that wool, and they don't use toilet paper...) Inuit were known to use it as a shampoo. It's a great degreaser
....and it makes a handy coolant when the Russians shoot a hole in your radiator.
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  #41  
Old 12-31-2007, 02:05 PM
dangermom dangermom is offline
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Originally Posted by Cluricaun
Tanners? As in animal hides? I've seen it done on deer hide and I don't recall having to smear poop on them. What purpose would human feces serve in the process of making leather?
Not nowadays, but for centuries poop was a major ingredient in the tanning process. It's described here.
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  #42  
Old 12-31-2007, 02:16 PM
Cluricaun Cluricaun is offline
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Originally Posted by dangermom
Not nowadays, but for centuries poop was a major ingredient in the tanning process. It's described here.
Well no shit.

There's my something learned for today.
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  #43  
Old 12-31-2007, 02:29 PM
susan susan is offline
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In the women's room at the university in Phnom Penh, you'll find a set of squat toilets. You'll also find a large plastic barrel of water with a smaller bottle to use as a scoop just outside the stalls.
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  #44  
Old 12-31-2007, 03:50 PM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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Back to the OP: Yes, chamber pots were for urination only as evidenced by the phrase: (We were so poor) We didn't have a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of.

I'm sure that in an emergency you could take a dump in the chamber pot, just like you could take a dump in the ocean if needed. It probably wasn't at all common..
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  #45  
Old 12-31-2007, 04:12 PM
dangermom dangermom is offline
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If anyone cares, my little autobiography here has a section in which she details just how to make and take care of sanitary napkins. I'll write it up if it's wanted.
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  #46  
Old 12-31-2007, 04:23 PM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dangermom
...So it seems that each woman was responsible for caring for her own personal supply of cloths, right up until the paper ones were developed. Here, it would have been about 1910.
Not only that but they ironed them?
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  #47  
Old 12-31-2007, 05:47 PM
Miss Purl McKnittington Miss Purl McKnittington is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spit
My Grandmother owned (which has since passed to her sister) a diary that her Great-Grandmother (Maybe Great-Great) kept when they first moved west. One of the entries was that (and I summarize here) she had, in the rush of packing, forgotten her extra cloths for menstruation, and had to borrow from her sister-in-law. (whom apparently she did not care for that much)

That would only have been 30 years or so from the setting of P&P, so I would assume most women did the same thing?
Well, we pretty much know for the 19th century, but any time before that is kind of a gray area. There are records in household inventories of lengths of cloth that might have been used as menstrual cloths, but there's also evidence that rolls of cloth might have been used like tampons, and they also might have just bled out into their undershirts. Until time-travel, or until someone uncovers some medieval woman's diary that talks in detail about menstruation, nobody's going to know for sure.
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  #48  
Old 12-31-2007, 05:51 PM
Miss Purl McKnittington Miss Purl McKnittington is offline
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Originally Posted by alphaboi867
Not only that but they ironed them?
Heh. Fabric that's been handwashed and dried on the line comes out a might more crinkly than things that have been dried in a dryer. Cotton in particular is inclined to be crinkly and stiff and not something I'd want in my nethers. Ironing softens it up a lot.
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  #49  
Old 12-31-2007, 06:02 PM
A.R. Cane A.R. Cane is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaboi867
Not only that but they ironed them?
Not surprising, my mom used to iron everything, from underwear to sheets.

Re: menstrual rags. I once spent the night, in a Saigon hotel room, w/ one of the commercial ladies of Tu Do Street. When I awoke in the morning she was gone, along w/ one of my socks. While searching the room, I discovered some blood stains on the sheets and realized where my missing sock had gone.
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  #50  
Old 12-31-2007, 06:59 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
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Originally Posted by Miss Purl McKnittington
Well, we pretty much know for the 19th century, but any time before that is kind of a gray area.
Cecil has an earlier source, which he cites in response to the question What can I do to get someone to fall out of love? :
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I recommend a remedy prescribed by the 14th-century physician Bernard of Gordon in his Lilium medicinae:
Finally . . . when we have no other counsel, let us employ the counsel of old women, who may slander and defame the girl as much as they can, for they are more sagacious in this than men. . . . Let there be sought a most horrible-looking old woman with great teeth, a beard, and evil and vile clothing who carries a menstrous napkin in her lap. And, approaching the lover, let her begin to pull up her dress, explaining that she is bony and drunken, that she urinates in bed, that she is epileptic and shameless, that there are great stinking excrescences on her body, and other enormities concerning which old women are well instructed. If the lover will not relent on account of this persuasion, let her suddenly take out the menstrous rag before his face and bear it aloft saying with a loud cry, "Such is your love, such!" If he doesn't relent on account of these things, he is a devil incarnate. His fatuousness will be with him finally in perdition.
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