The American Bathroom Takes Shape—Nineteenth Century and Beyond

As American cities became more congested and as the number of backyard privies near water supplies increased, the issue of sanitation grew more acute. Yellow fever epidemics erupted in the United States, particularly in New York, in the mid-nineteenth century, prompting physicians to declare publicly that unsanitary conditions were the root of the disease, and they asked that taxes be levied to develop a sewer system to remedy the problem. Many larger U. S. cities began to look
into developing safe water supplies and disposal systems. As a result of this awareness, the nine­teenth century brought many changes in how people viewed personal hygiene, as well as changes in the infrastructure and technologies that made the home bathroom a reality for the masses. One important step toward improving personal hygiene was primarily due to the medical profession. The medical field now supported the idea of hydrotherapy and also publicized the importance of personal and public hygiene, especially as cities grew larger and more congested. Increased aware­ness of the germ theory in the 1880s, and the connection between disease, germs, and personal hygiene, led to a preoccupation with personal cleanliness and sanitation. "Housewives" began to take this task very seriously and became hygiene experts.