Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater!

Another two weeks and another deadline for my historical newspaper article came last week.  Here’s what will appear tomorrow.  This time I chose to write on hygiene; it was inspired by a new donation to the museum: an old-fashioned galvanized tin bathtub.  Doesn’t look comfy at all!  This was fun to research and write.  Hope you enjoy it.

Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water!

Ever wonder where the phrase: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! really came from?  Even though it has its origins in Germany in the early 1600s, it certainly applies to life in the US in the mid-nineteenth century, before the days of indoor plumbing.  Baths were rare–rarer even in winter–and in summer if you were really dirty (smelly wasn’t a reason to bathe), a nearby lake or river would have to do, if there was one.  To understand attitudes about bathing and hygiene held by almost everyone, it may help to put the concept of personal cleanliness in perspective.  From the Middle Ages to the late 1700s, most physicians and clergy of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches believed bathing was unhealthy, both physically and spiritually, especially leading to promiscuous behavior in men and women.

As part of hygiene lore, we probably all have heard of the typical Saturday night bath ritual where water would be hauled from the stream or hand pump outside, if your family was lucky enough to have one, heated on the wood-burning stove, and poured into the galvanized tin bath tub placed in front of the fire for warmth.  The oldest male would have the honor of bathing first, followed by other males in descending age order, then the females, finishing up with the youngest children.  By the time a large family would be finished, one could easily imagine losing the baby in what would be dirty, cold water!  Drying off was another challenge.  Thick towels known and used for several centuries by the Turks finally made their way to England in the 1840s, but only the wealthy could afford them.  Americans would have to wait longer to be introduced to them, so for the pioneer family, rough linen or cotton rags would be used to wipe off after a bath.  Of course, air drying in front of the fireplace was always an option.

Prior to the Civil War, most soap was made by the housewife and consisted of lye and animal fat. Most often, soaps were used for laundry, not personal cleaning purposes.  The occasional bath, therefore, was nothing more than a rinse-off of surface grime.  It certainly wasn’t a comfortable experience, as the metal bathtub was often no more than a horses’ water trough, repurposed.  Having a tin tub specifically for bathing was a real luxury.  Basically they came in two shapes: the small round one with a high side to support the back and the deluxe model where an tall man could actually stretch his legs out.  (It eerily resembles a coffin.)  In the smaller version, an adult had to either crouch or dangle his or her legs over the side.  For men this could be managed more easily than for women, whose sense if modesty would prevail.  Most women would “bathe” standing up, probably wearing a cotton smock, while another woman would pour water over them.  On the pioneer treks across the country in the late 1840s, it takes little imagination to realize unless the route took the wagons or carts past a lake or river, no one bathed.

The height of bathing luxury: a galvanized tin bathtub

This changed in the 1870s and 1880s, when companies such as Woodbury’s, Procter & Gamble, Pears, and B.T. Babbit began to mass produce soap. The newly established soap makers were determined to turn their products into national habits. The many women’s magazines that were introduced in the late nineteenth century provided soap manufacturers with a perfect vehicle.   Several groups and institutions contributed to this transformation. The work of women’s clubs, settlement workers, and health educators facilitated increased awareness of hygiene and the importance of personal grooming. One result of this work was a dramatic growth in indoor plumbing. Reinforcing and in many ways leading this transformation, was the mass production of good quality soap at affordable prices.

 Concepts of personal hygiene underwent a dramatic change in the United States between 1875 and 1940 and during this relatively short period, Americans changed from a group of reluctant bathers–who rarely if ever used soap for personal hygiene–to a nation in love with suds and lavishly outfitted bathrooms.

At the Syracuse Museum we have a galvanized round tin bathtub!  Come see what baths used to be like.  Our summer hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West.  Stop by and visit us!

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

The News You (Probably) Missed–Vol. 5

Strange news items continue to pop up out here in the Beehive State.  Each morning when I head out to the driveway to pick up the paper hope springs eternal that there will be an odd story.  The daily rag doesn’t disappoint; here are four items from recent editions: legal illiteracy, the costumed waver, human skulls and the Constitution, and Mormon missionary mauling. 

Man Wants to Withdraw Pleas Due to Illiteracy

Trent Allen Longton, 25, suspected of pulling a gun on Walmart employees in the Layton store said recently he should be able to withdraw his guilty pleas because he is unable to read.  He had entered pleas to robbery, and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon.  He only has a fifth grade education, not a ninth grade education as he previously stated.  He said his mother had pulled him out of school after 5th grade, planning to home school him, but she never bothered to.  What did he steal?  A laptop computer which he removed from the box and stuffed under his shirt and down his pants.  After threatening the 4 Walmart employees, they were able to disarm him.  Walmart then promptly fired them for violating company policy.  The judge will rule about the plea change by mid-August.

Costumed Utah Man Spends School Year Waving at Son’s School Bus

Note: This started out as the news you more than likely missed, but it went viral, national and just about every other way you can think of, so you probably caught it somewhere.  In case you didn’t, here’s the news item.

Down in American Fork, UT (about 1.5 hours south of us) Dale Price spent every morning of the school year standing in front of the family’s house waiting for his son’s school bus to pass by to wave at it–costumed.  And there was a different costume for all 180 days.  Normally one would be thrilled that Dad would do this for his son Rain (yes, remember, we’re in Utah where unusual names rule), but little Rain is 16.  Dale started out by wearing a San Diego Chargers’ football helmet and progressed through snorkel gear, and costumes such as a scarecrow, Elvis, Santa Claus, even the Little Mermaid made an appearance.  Son Rain said it was embarrassing at first, but after a while, he, the other students, and the bus driver started looking forward to the daily adventure.  Dale said he did it to have fun and show Rain how much he cared about him.  I am unable to ascertain what exactly Dale does for a living that would give him his mornings free.  Here’s a teaser:  

Nacho Libre Man

Should you wish to see ALL the costumes, day by day, Rain’s mom put them on her blog:

Human Skull Case Dismissed

Here is a follow-up on a case I included in my News You (Probably) Missed series back on March 16, 2011 (In case you need a refresher, it’s the second posting that day directly under the Who Do I Think I Am? posting.).  Apparently, local prosecutors have decided not to challenge the US Constitution’s freedom of religion guarantee in a Clearfield case involving Roberto Casillas-Corrales, a self-proclaimed santero, or priest of the Santeria faith.  This religion has its roots in West Africa and the Caribbean.  Sacrificed goats and sheep were found in his back yard, along with 2 human skulls he claims he obtained from a person who traveled to Cuba.  Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said the trial, slated for July 15th has been dropped for 2 main reasons: 1) a US Supreme Court ruling in 1993 (Church of the Lukumi BabaluAye Inc. v. City of Hilaleah, FL) granted that the Santeria faith is a religion and therefore the city could not outlaw animal sacrifice; and 2) the is no federal or Utah state law that prohibits a person from buying human skulls or bones (except American Indian remains).  So, no case!  (And this could have turned into yet another legal circus.)  Rawlings was heard saying: “Do we really want to take on the Constitution?”

[Now I think of those goat parts sometimes found in remote areas of Philadelphia parks and cemeteries and wonder what has been unleashed by this legal position….]

Mormon Missionary Mauled by Lions

This, too, might have gone national, but it is a case of What was he thinking?  Elder Paul Oakey, a 20 year-old Mormon on his mission in Guatemala visited the nearby zoo and decided to stand on the wall separating the animal exhibit area from the public walkway and the lions were hungry (I guess) and attacked him, mauling his leg and arm.  Now, I’m not making light of this, as it’s serious, but was this young man’s brain turned on that day?  He was taken to the main hospital in Guatemala City for emergency treatment, ultimately leading to extensive surgery to reattach severed nerves.  I don’t know about you, but facing nerve surgery in a third world country is disturbing.  His mother was relieved that he wasn’t dead and thrilled that she got a phone call in to him.  [Brief note of explanation: once a young Mormon leaves on a mission of 2 years, anywhere in the world, he or she is only allowed minimal contact with families and only via letters.  (Except in extreme cases, like Elizabeth Smart who had to come home from her mission in Paris for the Brian David Mitchell trial.)  I’m not even sure e-mail is encouraged.  Phone calls are forbidden, and if a family member is ill or dies, too bad, you suck it up and don’t get a furlough home for the funeral.]  The mom is also hoping her local ward bishop will grant permission for her to fly to Guatemala so she can be by his side during recovery!  I sincerely hope all goes well with his recuperation.  (Update: Oakey has returned to Utah for further treatment.)

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Stitch in Time: A Brief Look at Quilting’s Humble Origins

Tomorrow another edition of the Syracuse Islander will be published and in it is my next historical article for the on-going series.  This time I wrote about quilts, taking my cue from the quilts we have in the museum’s holdings.  So, I’ve included it below.  I am rather pleased with the device I used to start the article.  Let me know what you think.

A Stitch in Time: A Brief Look at Quilting’s Humble Origins

The family just came from Salt Lake City and we’re On the Oregon Trail, taking a Path Through the Woods.  To help pass the time, we’re looking for rock formations called Jacob’s Ladder, the Spider Web, the Devil’s Claw, Crow’s Beaks, the Castle in the Clouds, and the Lady in the Lake.  I hope we’re not on a Wild Goose Chase, because all we’ve seen so far is a Toad in the Puddle and a Duck’s Foot in the Mud.  Pa and Ma say that when we arrive at Grandma’s Log Cabin we’ll eat Corn and Beans and Butter and Eggs off a Dresden Plate, enjoy a big Fruit Basket, watch the Cat and Mice and Scottie Dog chase the Hens and Chickens, while we play with the Paper Pinwheels and Tumbling Blocks.  At night we’ll look at the Shooting Stars from Grandma’s Attic Window.  Sounds like a crazy Grandmother’s Dream to me!

The above story is compiled by using the names of actual quilt patterns (in italics).  Quilting has been a large part of craft culture in the last half century, but its present beginnings were humbler and out of necessity for thrifty women everywhere.

Although not in the form with which we’re familiar, in the Middle Ages padded and stitched fabrics were important undergarments for men wearing armor; it reduced chafing and protected the skin from the metal which would get hot.  Fancy decorative needlework, like embroidery and appliqué, was a skill encouraged only for females in royal households who had the leisure time and wherewithal.

In the 18th century, especially in the colonies, women were responsible for spinning, weaving, and sewing clothing for their families, in addition to all their other chores while raising children.  Making clothing took a lot of time and effort, so if clothes wore out and could not be refashioned and handed down to younger family members, often the non-threadbare areas were saved and sewn together to make rough coverlets.  Again, only a wealthy few had the leisure time for decorative quilt making, and these quilts were not pieced together using leftover material.

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution, starting about the 1840s when water-powered textile mills, using southern plantation cotton, changed the way fabric was manufactured.  No longer were women sitting for long hours in front of a home loom.  A great variety of  commercial cotton prints were now affordable for most people.  Thrifty housewives would save leftover fabric scraps and worn out clothing to make quilts, but fabric purchases were often made specifically to create a quilt.  Soon, artistic seamstresses were creating early decorative quilt patterns still used today.

Shortly before the Civil War, the invention and availability of the treadle sewing machine contributed to not only making clothing, but also quilting.  In 1856 The Singer Sewing Machine Company started the installment plan so that more families could afford a sewing machine.  The sewing machine affected life for women dramatically.  First, it was quicker to sew clothes, so they now had more available time.  It also allowed women to piece quilt squares and other shapes together quickly (now considered “cheating” in some orthodox quilting circles!).  Once pieced together by machine, the hand-stitching through the completed piece to hold the inner batting in place and to add the decorative patterns of stitches could be done.  Quilting was slowly entering the world of a decorative craft from its former life of a thrifty necessity.  Quilters now had time to add embellishments like fancy embroidery stitches, appliqué work, and trapunto (stuffed appliqué to add dimension to the quilt).  Women were proud of their needlework and soon quilt contests and awards became part of rural agricultural fairs.

In the early 1900s the advent of “crazy quilts” took quilting and needlework skills to a new level.  Here the quilts were not intended as bed coverings, but as smaller decorative throws.  The artist could show off thread skills by embellishing the abstractly-shaped patches with birds, insects, and fancy stitchery along the seams.  Now, quilting is a firmly established craft and artistic expression for both women and men. 

Rose pattern appliquéd quilt in museum collection.

At the Syracuse Museum we have several examples of fine quilts created by local artisans; one is shown in the accompanying photograph.   Our summer hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West.  Stop by and visit us!

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 11:13 pm  Comments (1)  

Fourth of July in Utah, 2011

July 4th, 2011 played out a bit differently than last year for Utahns.  Last year, I mentioned in my posting just following my return from being east for a month and the July 4th holiday that as the holiday had fallen on a Sunday, in Utah it had to be celebrated on the 3rd or 5th (can’t celebrate a national holiday on the Lord’s Day).

This year, it fell on a Monday, so communities could go all out on the correct day.  In fact, since Pioneer Day is towards the end of this month, it is now legal to shoot off fireworks for the entire month of July!  Added to that, this is the first year that upgrades in legal fireworks sales came into play.  Prior to 2011, you could buy fireworks of the Roman Candle, bottle rocket, and spinning top variety, but nothing extravagant.  To the concern of police and firefighters all over the state, now arial rockets that shoot up about 100 feet are legal, as well as the volcano eruptions with loud charges.  This is a real game-changer.  Neighborhoods can now shoot off their own mini-displays.  The worry comes from personal safety issues and fire danger, as the heat of summer is on us and green fields are quickly drying out.  Wildfires caused by errant sparks are a real concern. 

In fact, some idiot got hold of truly over-the-top mortars and set them off at the bottom of his sloped driveway.  I don’t need to tell you what happened next.  Yup!  The mortars misfired, traveled up the driveway and into his garage, setting fire to the house and blowing up his cars.  He suffered some leg burns and his teenage son was burned on the arm.  Oh, by the way, he’s renting the house; so he’ll have to cover the damages.

Meanwhile, in the mountains, thanks to an extra 100 inches of snowfall on top of the normal 650+ inches the ski resorts normally get in the winter, Snowbird Ski Basin was able to offer skiing and snowboarding on July 4th.  The snow enthusiasts were thrilled.  TV news reports showed skiers in straw hats, shorts, and tank tops enjoying one last crack at the slopes.  One patriotic guy just had skis straped on and an American flag-print Speedo swimsuit covering the necessary parts.  I think it was in the 70s in the high elevations, so a nice day for skiing.

It was cloudy in Syracuse and threatened rain most of the day.  The Finley/Warren family marked the day by putting up a replacement trampoline in the backyard, assembling a new small bookcase for my Lawrence books, cleaning, and some light gardening.  We enjoyed a BBQ later in the day: grilled pork tenderloin, potato skins with cheese and bacon and toppings, and corn on the cob.  Around 9:00pm we left for Clearfield’s fireworks display at 10:00, taking our dessert with us: fresh fruit tart (baked earlier in the day) and whipped cream.  Charlie the Corgi was showing his patriotism by styling and profiling in his new flag neck kerchief and making friends near where we camped.

The rocket's red glare

All-in-all a great day!  Hope your Independence Day was just as good!

Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm  Comments (2)