Let’s face. Our ancestors used to smell. You probably won’t read about personal hygiene in history books but the historians all will tell you attention to one’s body odors was more-or-less unknown until recent years. The “good old days” may have been good but they also were smelly.
Writing in the Irish Examiner, Robert Hume investigates what our ancestors did to keep themselves cool and deal with body odor. Or, as the Irish write it, “odour.”
Here are a few of Hume’s statements:
“The fondness for bathing stopped once the medieval church warned of the evils of nudity. In Europe, bathhouses were closed down in the 14th century as a way of trying to check the spread of plague.”
“Aristocrats were often as dirty as peasants. A visitor to King Louis XVI’s court at Versailles described it as a ‘stinking cesspit’”.
“When Elizabeth Drinker had a shower installed in her backyard in Philadelphia in 1799, she said: ‘I bore it better than expected, not having been wet all over for 28 years past.’”
“But at first soap was a luxury. Only when the soap tax was removed in Britain and Ireland in 1853 could most people afford to buy it.”
You can read more if you hold your nose and go to https://tinyurl.com/y956dwzo.
Camp life during the U.S. Civil War
While not mentioned in Robert Hume’s article, I am always fascinated by the clothing in old photographs taken the the late 1800s or early 1900s, often showing men and women alike dressed in heavy clothing and standing in outdoor backgrounds that look like summer weather. Those wool U.S. Civil War uniforms had to be mighty uncomfortable in August in the Confederate South and probably not much better in the North! Of course, civilian clothing was much the same: lots of wool although some linen, long sleeves, formal coats and jackets, and dark colors.
The photo above appears to have been taken indoors but long before the invention of air conditioning! I am guessing this gentleman probably wore similar clothing outdoors all year long.