I had to struggle to get my nephew to take his bath the other night. Naturally, being a guy, he also wanted to wear his favorite undershorts and socks again, even though they were filthy from his having worn them for worn them for two (hectic) days straight (yes, all the time I was babysitting). We were watching something on the History channel, (well, I was) and he asked me - how often would George Washington take a bath? How often would he change his underwear? And did he ever change his clothes? I answered every day, every day, and every day. Does anybody have an idea of how often someone in George’s day would have done these things?
There’s a historic comic strip in the Washington Post every Sunday. Yesterday’s was about the congressional bathhouse. It indicated that bathing in bathtubs was a luxury. Not to side with your nephew, but I’d guess that no, GW didn’t bathe every day, maybe once a week. (?)
Remember that bathers would need to get so much water from a well, heat it to the desired temperature, and have a high-enought-quatlity tub to hold it in. A far cry from our turn-the-know-and-get-140-degree-water.
Geez! Hard to believe I was once in a spelling bee:
quatlity = quality
turn-the-know… = turn-the-knob…
wasn’t bathing considered to be dtrimental to health in those days? If I remember right they wore those black patches on their faces to hide the goss results of not washing your face for long periods of time.
I’d look up a definitive answer, if I had more time, but right now I have to change the rushes on the floors.
What the hell are “rushes” anyway? Straw?
high-enought=high-enough (or maybe, not quite)
Everyday Life in the 1800s, Marc McCutcheon, page 159,
Yes, I know that Everyday Life in Colonial America might apply to more of Washington’s life, but I still can’t find it. And sorry, it doesn’t say anything about changing clothes.
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People bathed, but not often. As others pointed out, it was a difficult task to heat the water to a comfortable temperature, especially in winter.
Washington then, didn’t do a ton of washing.
As far as underwear is concerned, the type of men’s underwear we see today wasn’t invented yet (no boxers, no briefs). I don’t know if the old fashioned “union suit” was invented, though the paintings of people in those days show tight stockings (a carryover from the days when a shapely man’s leg was something to show off), so there isn’t much room for undergarments. George most likely didn’t wear them.
As far as changing clothes, it probably had a lot to do with your financial condition. Still, even a well-to-do man would probably not change clothes every day.
People were more used to odors in those days. The smells were all around them, so they were unnoticed.
“East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” – Marx
Read “Sundials” in the new issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction. www.sff.net/people/rothman
I believe they’re something like reeds.
People washed…they just did not immerse themselves in bathtubs very often. (See old joke about Saturday Night Baths.)
A basin of warm water and chunk of hand-made soap…you lathered up your hands and forearms and washed your face and neck (remember all those old “Family Circus” type jokes about little boys hating to wash their necks?)
Yeesh. Sometimes I think I get my historical consciousness from Joe Miller and the funny papers.
RealityChuck, you’ve put an image in my mind of the Father of our Country dressing up in his tight pants and no underwear, checking out his tuchus in the full-length before going out to deliver the Inaugural Address. Thanks loads.
You know all of those cool movies which show people of the G. Washington period with powdered faces, huge hair, wigs, huge dresses and often HEAVY makeup? Well, they reeked, stank, stunk, and smelled in real period life. They used a lot of scented powder and perfume and got used to everyone else smelling rank. You think they washed those heavy cloths or changed them daily? Nope. Sheets were bleached with MILK – yeah. They stretched them out to dry and coated them with milk after washing. (The smell of the average large household inside, in the summer, at night with tallow and beeswax candles burning had to have been remarkable.) Hands and faces were often washed, which accounts for the bowl and pitcher on the night stands. Socks and undies were often worn for several days. (Think Washington cleared out his tent on the battle field when he took off those shiny boots after a week?) Women used actual strips of cloth, or rags, for their periods and such dainty items were usually stored, used, in a separate trash bucket – wooden, with a lid – in the kitchen. (I don’t know why, but I think those rags were burned in the cook fires later.)
The heavy coats, woolen, spun flax or linen – no artificial fibers – could be washed but were more often just dusted off and hung out to air. Washing laundry was an abusive, pounding process that wore things out quickly, took much time and labor and used harsh soaps made with a heavy lye base. Ironing was with heavy metal flat irons, heated in the fire, often wiped free of soot first, then used to kind of maul the clothing into shape. (Irons were often greased when not in use because being made of cast or forged iron, they tended to rust in the homes. (No climate control.)
Bathing was a laborious process consisting of hand carrying gallons of water to a big, heavy tub, under which – in many cases – a fire was lit to heat it. More than one person used the same water, so pity the last kid in a typically large household to have to try to clean himself in that 50 gallons or so of liquid, warm mud. The tub had to be hand drained, cleaned, the fire ashes removed and set aside. Lye soap, even modified, had nothing like the suds and emulsifying abilities of todays bars. Think of it like washing up with salt water soap or one of those hard, gray bars of laundry soap one can still find in some stores.
In frontier days, I have absolutely no doubt that the Native Americans probably smelled the pioneers long before they actually saw them. The Indians were actually cleaner because they wore less clothing and splashed about in streams more, but they were not what we today would consider stink free, especially with bear grease in their hair and inside those Tee-Pees.
Of course, for total gross out, the Eskimos take the cake. The women saved urine for tanning and for rinsing their hair in for special occassions. Nothing like being a 6 foot tall guy dancing with a 5 foot tall Eskimo lady with about a foot of piled up, shiny, glossy, urine reeking hair. Plus, those who lived in Igloos did not bath much at all – undertsnadable when everything around you is frozen water at about 1000 degrees below zero and piss can freeze before it hits the ground when urinating.
“Think of it as Evolution in action.”
G.W. did wear undies…the dear soul. His wife made long johns for him, too, sounded like one pair was knitted, possibly (<font color=red> itchy! </font) and accidently dyed some awful color before Martha could get them sent off to G.W. during the Revolutionary War.
Mt. Vernon is alive and well and may have info on his undies and bathing habits. Washable clothing was boiled at that time. The wash house is to the right of the main house, has wooden drying racks in it.
The Smithsonian has a collection of early American clothing and might have pictures or drawings of what was worn under G.W.'s tight pants. Not a tough web site to find.
Oh, I’m gonna keep using these #%@&* codes 'til I get 'em right.