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Massive Myths of a Previous Thread

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Nov 16, 2009
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I don't bother "dobing" (full body wash) when I'm camping out or on the hunt, when I need to freshen up its a small wet hand towel and water only wipe around the nether regions that smell like a hutch of Ferrets.....every couple of weeks or so whether I need it or not.
No woman's expected to share my bed so its not an issue.
Tip in regard to Toothpaste, leave it at home the smell of a freshly cleaned set of teeth carries in the wild, use Salt as "toothpaste", its very practical and good oral hygiene; also authentic for the time period if you're into that.
Whores bath is the term I learned back when…
You mean, as with today?
Nobody is making any "assumptions" broad or otherwise. I never wrote nor asserted that "everybody did this everywhere".

My objection was to the "myth" that "people didn't bathe", which has been recounted time and time again, from when I was in grade school, and is encountered even today. The assumption was no bathtub = no "bathing", well that's true if you define it strictly as immersion in hot water with soap.

So, first, you make the assumption that "washing" has to be with warm/hot water. Nobody has asserted that. Nobody has suggested full nakedness when washing either, and nobody is suggesting full body washing each and every day. Even today, the areas that need addressing for folks in combat areas are the crotch, groin, hands and feet. At least that was the practice when I was in the infantry.

Lack of personal hygiene can also get you killed. For the person living in a relatively stationary spot, that person builds immunity to the local bacteria, but for those "living away from home", they are encountering new bacteria because of their new geography. There are no topical disinfectants, no antibiotics as you point out, so a scratch or a boil, or an abscess could mean death by infection, if not impaired ability, so death by misadventure. Washing would also be less necessary when the body is less inclined to perspire, in the cold months.

Oh and the cold or wet hair doesn't cause pneumonia, and while cold air can exacerbate chronic bronchitis, it doesn't contribute to catching the organisms that cause bronchitis. At least that's what the doctors write.

It was the geographic bacterial changes that lead to both soldiers, and the local populations, suffering casualties from disease when an army moved through an area, bringing in new bacteria and viruses, and being exposed to new bacteria and viruses. The same would be true for an individual moving through areas. Greater risk of exposure to a bug they can't handle.

Well as for "why" perfumes were used, we don't know if it was to cover body odor OR was it to demonstrate that the person had the money to be able to afford it? Was it simply to be appealing to the opposite sex? For if we are talking "just as some do now", most folks that use antiperspirant/deodorant have no need of an additional scent, yet they don perfume or cologne. Some of the folks that don a perfume/cologne don't use a deodorant or antiperspirant (or at least not enough), and that ain't covering much when they do

My perfume comment was again to that myth, that folks didn't bathe but they instead doused themselves with perfume. Neither of which is at all accurate. Right up there with "they used pepper to cover off flavors from tainted meat because they had no refrigeration"..., when if they could pepper, or the other imported spices, they could afford fresh meat.

I appreciated your comments on language as well… particularly in light of some of the television series purportedly showing us how it was. Whether in 1883 or Deadwood or when or wherever.. Even common men and women didn’t curse or speak the way they are currently portrayed as having done. A man’s word meant something more than it does today and wasting them on profanity was considered the mark of a lazy intellect. This according to my grandfathers and their brothers. Ranchers, farmers, and miners born in the late 1870’s-1900 or so. These men and women were in their later years when I was a boy but the harshest curse I ever heard my grandfather utter was “jackass“ in reference to his sister.
Jun 17, 2019
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In a recent and ongoing thread some age old myths about colonial life surfaced. I confess I only read about a page, and had to pen this....

NO Bathing?
So we hear this a lot, and how people would douse themselves to the point of being self-marinated in perfume, because they didn't bathe. This is Balderdash upon Balderdash. They rarely conducted full immersion bathing in the home..., because it was a pain in the arse to heat all that water (especially in a quick manner) , and to maintain a vessel for the purpose aka a bathtub. (Ben Franklin was rich enough to own such BTW). Authors in the past for some unknown reason decided that since there was no bathtub in the home, and some sources mentioned "bathing" only once or twice a year, that meant that they didn't "wash" their bodies. They never bothered to look into the fact that when the old sources used the term "bathing" they mean full immersion, and not always in hot water. There is AMPLE evidence that folks performed washing of more than their face and hands on a regular basis. We would call this a "sponge bath". Franklin regularly aired his body in his rooms, calling the procedure an "air bath"... and today we know that a lot of the odor causing bacteria on the body is anaerobic (which is why the stinkiest of places on a person are the crevices on the skin where moisture doesn't evaporate, and are dark most of the time.

As for the perfume "dousing" that was simply another one of the "conclusions" of so called historians, who simply decided that since perfume existed, and bathtubs didn't then it must have been used to cover the stench. Of course it never occurs to these same "scholars" that such perfume was highly expensive. The same way that you hear how "pepper" was used to cover the taste of tainted meat so was desired by Europeans who had no refrigeration at that time in history... ignoring the fact that spices were SO expensive that IF you could afford pepper you darn well could afford fresh meat.... so wouldn't need the pepper.....

Washing of Clothing?
Folks, part of hygiene in the 18th century, in fact a major part, was in using clean clothing on a daily basis. So not only was washing with water and a cloth performed, but changing clothes on a regular basis was performed. Not to mention that a lot of clothing was also for protection, i.e. women wearing a head covering was fashion but kept their hair cleaner than not from soot and smoke and perspiration. A recent study was done where one man bathed as modern folks do and the other wore 18th century clothing and changed into something clean every day, sometimes changing twice a day. Results for the guy not "bathing" was only a slightly higher amount of personal bacteria and much akin to several European nations today in this century. This use of clothing wasn't a practice for just the "rich" or the "prosperous" either, as information on common folk on the "frontier" show a good quantity of clothing especially the clothing that was worn as undergarments. Further Proof? Folks, Castile Soap (hard, lye soap) was exported into Antwerp, Belgium in the 1560s. In the 1600's the Spanish purchased a monopoly on the stuff in Europe and then it later caused a problem in England as it was cheap enough to supplant the soft soap that the English were making and using. (Until widespread availability of hard [Castile] soap, all soap was "soft" ) . IF folks aren't using it to wash themselves.... what then? Clothing.

Further, the bathtub was commonly found in homes by the middle of the 19th century, but the first commercial deodorant, known as Mum, didn't appear until 1888. Zinc was discovered in 1746. Zinc Oxide was in wide use by 1850, and at the time it's active ingredient was zinc oxide. Mum is still made today btw, but has a different formula.

So folks weren't covered in filth and reeking during in the Colonial Period.

The Language was hard to Understand?
Um so here is some written text, text based on the spoken language of the period....,

"There do not frequently occur opportunities of obtaining a passage from Charlestown to Norfolk : the season was too far advance to admit of travelling on horseback through North-Carolina, and making in that state a sufficiently long stay to acquire good information. After having waited a week for a vessel to convey me to Virginia I had engaged a birth [berth] in a sloop, but my Charleston friends thought it too much encumbered with passengers to allow of my being conveniently accommodated on board..." from a journal of 1799

The subsistence of the men in Hospital must be thrown into a fund, for the benefit of the whole in general, and no particular account given to each man, in what manner his money has been expended ; for though the disorder of one may not require the consumption of his Pay, yet that of another may much more, when wine, rich broths, and things of that kind are absolutely necessary : Cuthbertson 1776

Going back a little more than a century, we can still read and understand this recipe

Take a Pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream, put in eighteen yolks of Eggs, and eight of the whites ; a pint of Sack [sweet sherry] ; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of sugar into the Wine and Eggs with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon ; set the basin on the fire with the wine and eggs and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boyling from the fire ; pour in on high, but stir it not ; cover it with a dish, and when it is settled, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up. Sir Kenelm Digby 1669

Now yes, there were no established norms in spelling, the font of the printing of the time at first reading may be tough but regular reading and it becomes easy, and the further back one goes one gets some interesting phrasing, not to mention some accents and other dialects were found, but the majority of the people who were British subjects could and did speak English similar to what we would speak today. It's not Shakespeare and definitely not Chaucerian English.

Life expectancy

Compared to today, where we have childhood vaccines, antibiotics, antivirals, anesthetics, and chemotherapy (not just for cancer btw), the medicine of the 18th century sucked. BUT folks confuse "average life expectancy" stats with survival expectancy. The reason the life expectancy was low in the 18th century was childhood mortality due to a lack of pre-natal care and vaccines, which skews the average downwards. IF you survived past about 5 years of age..., you were likely to live to be old age, if you avoided a war zone. And "avoiding a war zone" doesn't mean being involved in the fighting but avoiding being exposed to bacteria and viruses cheerfully brought to your village by a moving army, even your own country's army. In New England in the 17th Century, it became common for people to know their grandparents, and by the 18th century, people in Britain were living to between 50 and 65, BUT people in the English Colonies in America were living on average as much as 20 years more, to 65-70, and it was not unheard of to live into one's 80's.

Very good. I do assume that all people, whatever time period, would have itching in uncomfortable places just as modern people, and would have to address that. BTW, the famous Dr. Johnson, who was biographed by Boswell, "invented" the first Dictionary; it gave some governance as to usage and spelling, as you've noted, there were no norms of spelling, etc. Thanks.
Feb 28, 2019
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All this washing stuff reminds me of a time I was at the Border of Persia & Baluchistan at Nokundi the only building was a square customs house . I needed 'to go' I asked the customs bod ''Where is your ' out house" they pointed down the building toward the desert I walk to the corner then the next corner then back at the door. I ask again. They pointed to the same desert & off I go ,same result then I' twigged' you went to the rear of the building attended your relief & used sand as a sort of blotting paper . Much the same as fine sand was used as a blotting paper . Things in a Persian lorry park where much better they had a small building with a painted" C W' Though I didn't need it as it happened . I once crossed the Sahara from Adrar to Gao on a truck for 5 days .I must have 'gone.' but cant remember such details, but the only washing was a token one as the other passengers & drivers stopped for prayers , while heathen infadel me went looking for spent cartridge cases and bits of horn. Reaching the Niger river I found all washing and drinking water & all attending to 'toilet' was in the same grey silted river bank some locals evidently never ever washed . The hotel in Mopti only drew the water from the Flev / river seemingly distaining the sort of slough inlet water . Didn't look any different to me.
I did get into an awful state sicker than any dog but survived and the following months wandering through Equatorial West Africa to the Cameroons thence Fernando Poo still a Spanish Colony as the Congo was at war .(Still is ! ) I met many Peace Corp volunteers & their CUSO & VSO equivalent's and I conveyed news for them since the mails where unreliable suited me and the Lagos PCV Doctor diagnosed my Malaria . All hail the dedicated PCV types of 1965.Or I might not be able to pen this account
.Regards Rudyard