When did personal hygiene become important?

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Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#11
No wonder the bath houses were shut down. This looks like a recipe for all kinds of germ transfer... :cool:
Were they really shut down? Isn't that where Bette Midler got her start? pa-leeez don't aks me who she was. is? Haven't seen her around lately.

OK now for a serious question about personal hygiene:
I was told that Napoleon once sent a message to Josephine which said something like, "Will be home in two weeks...do not bathe." Is this true?
 
Mar 2008
2,176
Sacramento, CA
#12
I was told that Napoleon once sent a message to Josephine which said something like, "Will be home in two weeks...do not bathe." Is this true?
I have read several versions of this quote attributed to Napoleon in a letter sent to Josephine. The time frame varies in the different accounts, from "I will be home soon, do not bathe" to "I will be home within the week, do not bathe" to the two weeks you quote. Unfortunately, I have not seen a definitive historical account. I guess Napoleon liked his woman to have that "fresh out of the sweatshop" aroma.

It was a known practice for women of that time period to take a peeled apple or pear, keep it under their armpit for a period of time, then wrap the fruit (probably in something lacy) and send it to their male love interest/husband, if he was away. Thus, he could enjoy her scent, even though he could not be with her. I'm not sure what I think of that one... :confused:

My favorite personal hygeine story takes us away from Europe to 20th century China. Dr. Li Zhisui, one of Mao Zedong's personal physicians, recounted in his book The Private Life of Chairman Mao (1994) that Mao Zedong was so paranoid and mentally ill that he completely refused any type of dental or oral hygiene. Mao's teeth were completely covered in a green film, and when Dr. Li touched Mao's gums, pus woold ooze out of them. :eek:
I cannot even begin to imagine how bad Mao's breath must have been...
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#13
Perhaps the Napoleon 'bath' story is an urban legend. I would love to see a source on this.
Here is another old woodcut of a man and woman in a bath-tub. It is from the German Calendar, Augsburg, circa 1480. The unassuming charm of these old wood cuts with their innocent honesty are as fresh today as they were then.
The original was in black and white of course.
 

Toltec

Ad Honorem
Apr 2008
7,923
Hyperborea
#14
A lot of council swimming pools in old victorian buildings still have the words "public baths" "Turkish baths" chipped in the stone. In victorian times these places had baths, showers, a Turkish (steam) bath and pools. This lasted right up until the 1960's when they were converted to public swimming pools and the bath functions closed down.

In the last couple of decades though the Turkish bath sections have been re-opened, only now called saunas.

http://www.ashton-under-lyne.com/history/baths.htm
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#15
By the later Middle Ages every town had its lupanar, as in the old Roman Empire. Where German was spoken, the establishments were called Frauenhauser (woman-houses) and this neutral, uncompromising name became usual in other countries also. The house was usually situated in a side street near a chruch. It bore no sign, but everyone knew where it was. (Reminds me of modern day Costa Rica) The business was less often combined with the sale of liquor than in antiquity, but a new attraction had been invented;a device not unlike our modern hot tub. The public baths were not great mansions as in ancient Rome, but modest utilitarian establishments, often simply disguised brothels. The hub of such a place was not a drawing room, but a basin with room for five or six people, not to swim, but to enjoy physical contact. (Reminds me of Las Angles) Larger tubs were provided for more intimate enjoyment, unless the customers wished to withdraw into a dry chamber to carry out the real purpose of their visit. Paris, whose population of two hundred thousand making it the largest city of Europe, had thirty such establishments at the beginning of the fifteenth century.
 
Apr 2008
73
Los Angeles, CA
#16
19th century when scientific discoveries led to people becoming worried about dirt. Before that people rarely washed or bathed.
Was this purely pertaining to washing of the hands? What about brushing thy teeth? Bathing? I mean if people truly rarely bathed then why would you even want to get close to a beautiful girl back in the day? She would probably stink... that is a horrible thought. I would think they would have some hygiene!
 

Nick

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2006
6,111
UK
#17
Was this purely pertaining to washing of the hands? What about brushing thy teeth? Bathing? I mean if people truly rarely bathed then why would you even want to get close to a beautiful girl back in the day? She would probably stink... that is a horrible thought. I would think they would have some hygiene!
Back then that wouldn't put people off as they'd smell exactly the same. The rich would cover themselves in perfume as they believed washing removed the coat of dirt that protected them from disease. Even the king would only take a few baths each year. James VI never washed his hands, just wiped them with a napkin, and Louis XIV only had one bath in his life. Elizabeth was unusual as she bathed every month.
Toothbrushes weren't invented until the 18th-century, before that people would use wooden or metal toothpicks.
 

Afrasiyab

Ad Honorem
Sep 2007
6,378
#18
The mere conception of being clean and personal hygiene in the Occident is pretty much new ~ Maybe this is the same for the entire world. Is being clean an instinctive "nudge"?

I dont think so ~ It's a modern age trend, i guess. Smelling nice, shiny hair, water-bright faces, manicured hands, deodorants, anti-perspirants... All can be classified in personal hygiene needs.

I feel uncomfortable when my hair is dirty ~ But if wont go out that day, i might postpone washing it. So, taking myself as the micro-example, being cleand and personal hygiene is not much more than having muscles to show off or wearing the brand-new the most expensive Gucci fragrance, erm, or wearing low-cut jeans not to be dressed to kill among other people~ It's a social thing; collective-subconscious obligation.
 
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avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#19
Back then that wouldn't put people off as they'd smell exactly the same.
Even as recently as the 1960s and 70s, people only washed their hair once or twice a week. If someone's hair was greasy, it wasn't really noticed but altogether accepted. So, I suppose hygiene is all relative; we could look back from two or three decades down the line and be appalled that our hygiene at the beginning of the 21st century was so bad.

As for not wanting to get too close to some dame back in the days of stinkiness, if you were desperate enough for something ... er, well ... would you be too fussy?
 
Apr 2008
73
Los Angeles, CA
#20
Back then that wouldn't put people off as they'd smell exactly the same. The rich would cover themselves in perfume as they believed washing removed the coat of dirt that protected them from disease. Even the king would only take a few baths each year. James VI never washed his hands, just wiped them with a napkin, and Louis XIV only had one bath in his life. Elizabeth was unusual as she bathed every month.
Toothbrushes weren't invented until the 18th-century, before that people would use wooden or metal toothpicks.
Fascinating and disgusting! Thanks for the info Nick.
 
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