If you rolled your eyes at this blog title, that’s OK – it was a crappy pun. >insert groan here<

Seriously though, who hasn’t wondered what people did before the modern conveniences of toilets, TP and even pads and tampons. I mean, just because those convenient items didn’t exist doesn’t mean the inconveniences didn’t either.

Considerable thought was actually put into historical commodes. Toilet artifacts have been found dating all the way back to the BC years, most of which look either like ornate chamber pots or stone slabs with circles cut into them. Several civilizations even came up with ways to funnel their rivers through pipes that ran under latrines as a means of removing waste (several civilizations, as in more than just the Romans). In fact the earliest level flush toilet was invented in 1206! How crazy is that??

English lavatories were typically narrow chambers with a wooden seat (padded with velvet if you were important) with a hole in it that emptied through a series of channels into a cesspit or some kind of water source. In London, facilities were even provided for the public. Kind of like an outhouse, but instead of a hole in the ground, it was the frigid Thames below. Can you imagine how cold that would be on a winter day? Even people who were fortunate enough to have commodes in their homes still had to deal with the icy temperatures in the winter because those tunnels leading out of their privy’s were not heated.

So, back to those cesspits. Those indoor latrines emptied into places like the back yard and beneath the cellar floors. Slatted sides ensured liquid escaped and left only solids behind. Which leads to the next question – what does one do with all that poo?

Enter the gong farmer. Bless his heart, this man did a job so foul he was only permitted to work during the hours of late night/super early morning. Though he was a laborer, he was paid a considerable amount for that period in time and would scoop out the cesspits and relocate the…um…loads…to an approved area. Trust me, they were super picky about where that stuff ended up.

Speaking of interesting jobs centered on toilets, there was one particular task all the noblemen were clamoring for. The Groom of the Stool. Yes, this was such a thing. And, yes, it was a huge honor. The Groom of the Stool was the most trusted person within the king’s Privy Chamber (AKA bedroom and stuff). He would keep the monarch company while the king answered the call of nature. While there, the king would discuss his private affairs and seek counsel. Ever hear of the phrase ‘being privy’ on a secret? Bet ya can figure out where that came from. 😉 At any rate, after the king finished his bodily business, the groom would have the esteemed honor of cleaning the royal hiney. Seriously.

Now we know where they went to the bathroom, but what did they use to wipe themselves? After all, toilet paper has only been around since 1857 and it was a bust at first. It wasn’t until the tissue sheets were placed on a roll and perforated did they become popular. Prior to that, people were all about the pages of magazines. Gives a whole new perspective to the bathroom reader, eh?  But back, back, back in the day before magazines, when books were crazy expensive and rare – what did they use? The answer is pretty much whatever was readily available. Obviously the rich had more comfortable/hygienic options like bits of fine cloth and lace (am I alone in feeling bad for the lace maker who slaved over that delicate masterpiece just so a nobleman could wipe his tuckus?). The poor had to make do with whatever they could find. Everything was used from grass, leaves, old scraps of cloth to seaweed and shells. Yeah that last one made me wince too. Romans were said to keep sponges soaked in saltwater that were used for the ol’ swiperoo and Greeks used clay (I’m kinda curious how that worked…) and early Americans used corn cob husks. Don’t worry, I’ll leave the corn comments to you guys.  😉

Let’s see, we’ve covered toilets, sh*tty jobs and toilet paper. Might as well throw in a lil history on what women did when menstruating. Why? Cuz I’m curious like that. And if you’re still reading, then you are too (or you just really love me enough to tolerate this post).

Would you believe me if I told you that tampons have been around since the 18th century? Not shocked, huh? What if I told you tampons weren’t actually used for menstruating women until the 1940’s? Yup, the original purpose of a tampon was invented to staunch blood flow in bullet wounds. Nurses got their hands on them and put them to womanly purpose.

Going on that thread, we can thank nurses for pads too. Like the tampons, these were originally invented for medical purposes and were used to absorb blood from wounds. These caught on a little more quickly than tampons and were marketed toward women in 1888. The absorbent filler used to make them? Wood pulp. Kind of makes you wonder if anyone ended up with a splinter…OUCH!

Before tampons and pads, it was the TP concept all over again – whatever they could get their hands on. Sponges, scraps of fabric, knitted pads that could be washed and reused – oh, and nothing. Yup, nothing. Women didn’t wear underwear until the early 19th century (meaning nowhere to tuck the scraps of cloth) and even when they did start, their underwear was split down the middle for ease of going to the bathroom (called a pantalette if you’re interested). Rumor has it women would just have their undergarments thoroughly washed while menstruating or they’d stay in bed (probably on top of a pile of clothes). And here I always thought they just used the cramps and headaches as an excuse to sleep all day…

I hope you enjoyed the info dump on toilet history…and hope it made up for the full month I’d failed to post.  😉  See y’all next time!!  🙂 

  1. All I have to say is Thank Goodness I wasn’t a pre-1900’s gal! I can’t even use a port-o-let 🙂

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