Everyone has a morning routine, and they are very similar. Shower, shave, hair, makeup, teeth, and the list goes on and on. Most morning routines require a great deal of effort and time, but they are essential. Our morning routines today are much different than they were many years ago. Here are some daily health practices from Colonial America that are just too bizarre to be real, but they are.
Most people shower every day. If they can’t get in the shower every day, they make sure to shower every other day. During the 18th century, people were advised not to bathe daily, or even regularly. Doctors back then believed that bathing regularly would remove the body’s natural oils that are essential for good health.
Cleanliness and Godliness
Religion and cleanliness went hand and hand in the 18th century. If a person was dirty, they were looked at as sinners. If a person tried to look groomed and well kept, people believed that they were less likely to do anything wrong.
Men, women, and children would wash their hands and faces in the morning. Only infants were bathed daily. Parents didn’t bathe their infants regularly to keep them clean; they did it to harden them. When the infants got older, they would start washing just their hands and faces daily.
Many single women chose not to bathe often and used their uncleanliness as a means of self-defense. They believed that if they smelled really bad, that it would keep overly persistent men from hitting on them. Maybe they remained single because the smell repelled even the good guys.
Many people chose not to bathe every day because they didn’t have bathtubs large enough to fit themselves. Only the very wealthy could afford a tub, and since most people weren’t wealthy, they didn’t bathe daily. Some people would bathe in fresh bodies of water if the weather permitted, but they rarely brought soap.
The only type of soap available during the 18th century was lye soap. It was made of a mixture of animal fat, ash, and lye. It wasn’t used for bathing or a few reasons. First, it was very hard to make. Also, it was very harsh on the skin. Because of this, soap was mostly used for washing clothing and dishes.
Not All the Clothes Were Washed
Today, washing clothes is simple. You put your clothes in the machine, add some detergent, push a button, and your clothes will be washed. During the 18th century, it was much more difficult. Water needed to be drawn and then heated. The clothes would be cleaned, and wringing them out was very difficult. Because washing clothes was so difficult, not everything was washed. Most people would only wash their dirtiest clothes such as aprons, underwear, and diapers. A person’s everyday clothes were rarely ever washed.
Since clothing was difficult to wash, it was evident that people rarely washed their blankets. This would take more work than people wanted to do. Because people didn’t wash their blankets, it often led to frequent bug infestations. People in the 18th century had to deal with fleas, cockroaches, and mosquitoes. Many people couldn’t deal with the infestations so that they would resort to sleeping by a campfire.
Lice was a big problem with people in the 18th century, but it wasn’t poor people who often got lice. It was upper-middle-class people. The wealthy often wore powdered wigs. Although the men and women would shave their heads first, the bugs would nest in the wigs and made for the perfect place for the little critters to settle. Since poor people couldn’t afford an expensive wig, they didn’t have to deal with lice.
When the people realized that their lice were the source of their lice, they took steps to prevent this. Since washing the wigs didn’t help, they would coat then in bay leaves, bergamot, and other repellents. Because the wealthy would style their wigs, using repellent wouldn’t help. It just acted as a magnet for the lice.
George Washington had to deal with vermin and other problems. He often wrote about his experiences and said that soldiers were required to wash their shirts every week. They also had to wash their hands and faces daily during wartime. Because the camps were so crowded, it was the perfect breeding ground for critters, parasites, and diseases such as smallpox.
It was important that the camps were sanitary and kept in order. The camps had “camp followers” who were either women or slaves. It was their job to make sure that the soldiers’ uniforms and undergarments were clean and that their meals were adequately prepared.
In the 18th century, men didn’t shave themselves. Instead, they would go to the barbershop, where a man of color with skill would give them a shave. Women didn’t shave at all, which was one of the reasons that they didn’t show any skin at all. If a woman wanted to remove their hair, they would pluck. Some 18th-century medical journals suggested using depilatory creams that were made from limestone and arsenic.
People didn’t think much about their dental hygiene in the 18th century. If a person had a toothache, they would use chamomile, alcohol, or opium to dull the pain. If a person needed to have a tooth pulled, they couldn’t make an appointment with their dentist. They would visit an apothecary, barber, or even a blacksmith to pull the tooth. For those who were worried about their oral health, there were metal tooth pickers available in stores. This was pretty disgusting because these pickers were also used for picking dirt from their nails or scooping wax from their ears. Most people didn’t care if their teeth rotted out of their mouths because decayed teeth were a symbol of wealth. In the 18th century, only the wealthy could afford sugar. If a person had rotten teeth, it showed that they were wealthy enough to afford it. Over time, healthy teeth became a priority for everyone.
Today, dentures look and work just like real teeth. Back in the 18th century, if a person needed dentures, they would get them from the deceased. Most of the dentures came from dead soldiers. Later, wooden teeth became popular. Finally, modern dentures became available, which was a considerable advancement for dentistry.
Using the Bathroom
In the 18th century, there was no indoor plumbing. People didn’t even have bathrooms in their houses. They would use outhouses, that were basically covered holes in the ground. The wealthy would use chamber pots, and the contents would be thrown out the window when they were full. These practices were unsanitary and created serious health conditions. The feces and other contaminants would seep into the groundwater, or it would run into the streams and lakes. This caused these bodies of water to be contaminated. This could be why diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and influenza were so prevalent in the colonies. Dysentery was also widespread.
In the 18th century, it took a long time to heat the water for a bath. Because of this, families would share bathwater. The bath order often went from oldest to youngest, which meant that the baby of the family would be forced to wash in their family’s filth. Because heating the water was so time-consuming, families wouldn’t bathe daily. Families would be lucky if they bathed once a week. Since the wealthy had slaves and servants to heat the water for them, they bathed more frequently than those less fortunate.
We already know that people didn’t wash their clothes very often, but they also didn’t own many outfits. Most people owned just four outfits, and they had one for each season. When it was time to wash their clothes, they would have to do so completely naked, because they didn’t have anything else to put on.
Women were just as concerned about their weight in the late 19th and early 20th century as they are today. Back then, they didn’t know about superfoods, and they didn’t have supplements to help lose weight. Doctors would give people with weight issues tapeworms to help them lose weight. The women would ingest the tapeworm, and let it eat up all of their food and nutrients. Doctors even advertised tapeworms that were packed in jars. Today, it is well known that tapeworms are very dangerous, and if a doctor suspects that you have a tapeworm, they will begin treatment immediately.
Toilet paper wasn’t around until the 20th century. Before that, people had to come up with other alternatives to wipe after using the bathroom. They would use things like rags, wet clothes, leaves, sticks, or their hands. It was far from sanitary, but they had to work with what they had at the time. Toilet paper was first introduced in Japan and made it to the United States shortly after.