Monday, March 5, 2018

Victorian Women’s Hygiene: A Delicate Subject

Have you ever wondered about the personal hygiene practices of women living during the Victorian Era or before?  We live in a time where we are bombarded with magazine ads, TV commercials, billboard signs and peer influence regarding the latest and best products and current trends to use to practice our daily and monthly hygiene rituals.    

Queen Victoria's reign (1837-1901) was a period of intensive industrialization, urbanization, and social change. This time period marked massive changes and attitudes towards class and hygiene, where ‘cleanliness’ was equated with respectability and ‘smell’ was an indicator of health, class and social order. When Queen Victoria was crowned, fashion and art were generally only for the upper-classes. As her reign wore on, the middle-classes grew and copied the gentry. By the late 1800s, even the working poor were doing their best to emulate the elite.  

Bathing:  Personal hygiene in the Victorian period, and indeed in nearly every era preceding it, was not conducted with the same rigor as today.  During the first decades of Victoria's reign, baths were virtually unknown in the poorer districts and uncommon elsewhere.  Those who could afford a bathtub would have bathed a few times each month, while the poor were likely to bathe once a year. Victorian men and women would wash arms, hands and faces regularly but the rest of the person was pretty much left to itself.  This may seem remarkably smelly, but if everyone else smells the same then one assumes the odor becomes unremarkable.  
The Industrial Revolution was a major influence on the English economy, trade, population, advances in medicine and the importance of personal hygiene, recommending that more frequent bathing would help reduce or eliminate some of the major health issues of the time.  Bath houses became popular, but women didn't disrobe to bathe, rather they kept on their underpinnings while they would soak with other women in a public bath.  Water was heated over open fires, causing a lot of the bathhouses to burn down.  The wealthy had portable tubs that were brought to their bedrooms and placed in front of the hearth.  Victorian women used pumice stones to clean, adding flowers and citrus or perfume to their bath water.  

Toilet: Dealing with human waste has always been part of being alive. Humans typically practiced open defecation or employed latrines. “Outhouse”, “water closet”, “privy”, “necessary house”, “the closet” are just a few terms that have been used to refer to where a person would go to “taking care of business”.  

 If you were a Victorian woman, you would have eaten, drank, and taken physical exercise at about the same time each day. So women would of course try to time their privy use in the morning and night, when they were disrobed. But their main trick: underwear, or what most people think of “bloomers”, had no crotches. They were leg coverings that were left split, wide and droopy, usually from front to back. This allowed a woman to use a chamber pot, outhouse, or early toilet by just flipping her skirts (which she needed both hands to do, they were so long and heavy), and squatting.   

Wiping?   The wealthy would have included wiping themselves with wool, lace, or hemp. The poor simply used their hands or cleaned themselves as best they could with rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, maize, husks, seashells and fruit skins – essentially, whatever was handy and available given the country, weather conditions, or social customs.  Man has tried various ways to dispose of human waste by using chamber pots, which were cleaned manually by the servants or slaves, with toilets protruding out of the top floor of a house or castle, and dispose of wastes in the river below or into the streets or drains in urban areas.

Time of the Month: Before the 20th century, women ate less, were pregnant more often, and died much earlier in life, so menstruation was a somewhat rarer occurrence and simply not a priority. Abstinence, coitus interruptus, or a “condom” made out of chemically treated linen or animal tissue (intestine or bladder) were used until rubber condoms gained popularity in the mid-19th century. Women had few options when Mother Nature called once a month. Some would use rags (hence the saying “on the rag”) or pieces of cloth sewn into their clothing that would be reused several times. Some women simply wore black and let gravity do its thing.  A form of what we know as tampons could be used. It consisted of a stick with lint wrapped around it to collect the blood. There were “sanitary belts” like the one in the picture that were metal, where fabric was sewn into the crotch area. Because of the odor, most women stayed away from others during their menses.  Doctors during this time believed that the regularity of a woman’s period was related to her mental health – her body controlled her mind and it was the responsibility of the oldest man in the house to make sure that her menses flowed on a regular basis.
Dental Hygiene For the lower classes, dental hygiene was little more than a toothpick and wiping down your gums with a cloth. Women generally had worse dental hygiene than men due to vitamin loss from pregnancy.   

Toothpaste had been invented in the early 1700’s by an Italian company, Marvis, but it wasn’t an “essential”. 
By the early 1800s, a variety of toothbrush and toothpowder manufacturers were competing with each other for a rapidly growing number of clientele in a thriving toothpowder trade. Tooth powder recipes proliferated, and toothbrushes began to be sold in great quantities. 

 The Victorian Era seems to be a glamorous period in time because of the style of clothes, the advances taking place during the Industrial Revolution, the romance novels written for that era, along with the romanticism that Hollywood has depicted in movies representing the time, have created a picture of elegance and refinery. But life was not glamorous or easy for a female before modern times. Body odor, homes and cities smelling of human waste, water to collect and heat for bathing or laundry, while dealing with their monthly menses was a real chore! Women of today have truly been blessed with the availability of hot water, indoor plumbing, and personal hygiene products that make it so much easier to take care of personal hygiene and bathroom business. 

Submitted by: Irish Rose


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Victorian Calling Cards Part Two - Gentlemen Acquaintance Cards

Our Kitty Rose found this interesting article about the other side of calling cards - humorous cards given out by gentlemen.  The following paragraphs were written by

In the 19th century, gentlemen used calling cards to formally introduce themselves to new acquaintances and to call upon friends and relatives in a dignified way.

But there was another type of card used when a gentleman wanted to get the ball rolling with a lovely lady in a more casual way: the acquaintance card. According to The Encyclopedia of Ephemera, the acquaintance card was, “A novelty variant of the American calling card of the 1870s and 1880s,” and was  “used by the less formal male in approaches to the less formal female. Given also as an ‘escort card’ or ‘invitation card,’ the device commonly carried a brief message and a simple illustration - Flirtatious and fun, the acquaintance card brought levity to what otherwise might have seemed a more formal proposal. A common means of introduction, it was never taken too seriously.”
The cards were designed as a comical way for a gentleman to break the ice, start a conversation, and flirt with the opposite sex. Sometimes the humor was overt, and sometimes it derived from the way the messages parodied the formal rules of etiquette — it wasn’t actually considered appropriate to ask for your calling card back or volunteer your escorting services so directly, as some of these cards do. Their humor and directness is kind of awesome; as an icebreaker, it seems like they’d be easier for the guy, and more enjoyable for the gal, than a lot of the awkward pick-up tap and dance of the modern day.  Source

 Below are some of the wonderful cards used in the McKays' article.  Source

The following cards were taken from Pinterest:

Submitted by:  Kitty Rose

Friday, December 1, 2017

Victorian Calling Cards

Victorian calling cards were prevalent in the 19th Century.    Priscilla Rose, also known as Sleigh Gal, found the following very interesting article in her magazine, The Carriage Journal.  This article was written by Gregory Cuffey.
 The tradition of using calling cards began in England, and they were considered an important part of introductions, invitations and visits.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans followed the English tradition of calling cards.


These cards were used when calling on friends, relatives and business acquaintances.   This was
considered proper etiquette for men and women in the middle and upper classes, in order to help them screen those who were socially undesirable.

Most gentlemen and women kept a handy supply of calling cards with them to distribute during visits.  These cards were often very simple in design, giving the caller's name and often including the name or logo of his or her favorite interest or organization.

There were many rules and traditions that went along with the use of these cards.  At the simplest:  When calling upon a friend you would give your card to the servant who answered the door.  The servant would be holding a silver tray, and the card would be placed upon it.

If the person one was calling on was at home, the servant would take the card to her, and she would come meet you.  If the person being called upon was not at home, the servant would leave the card for when he or she returned.

Generally, at a caller's first visit to a home, he or she would simple leave a card and then depart.  If the new acquaintance wished to participate in a formal visit, she would send a card in return.  If no card was sent, or if the card was sent in an envelope, this was a sign that the new acquaintance did not prefer a personal visit.

This Brougham Sleigh held the above calling card holder.   It is part of the Skyline Farm Carriage and Sleigh Museum, located in North Yarmouth, Maine.  You can read about the museum at their website