The Middle Ages

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the bath was no longer an important part of daily life and disappeared for centuries. Through the Middle Ages, the fifth to fifteenth centuries, bathing was not a common activity and little attention was given to personal hygiene. Much of the decline was due to physicians who thought bathing was harmful to health, and clerics—in particular the Puri­tans—who thought nakedness and bathing to be indecent and sinful. The spread of diseases and the tightening of church doctrine eventually closed down communal baths in Europe.

Sanitation in general suffered during the Middle Ages. Few, if any, advances were made in devices to collect waste. Without a sewer system or other disposal methods, chamber pots were usually emptied out the windows. Sometimes that meant pouring waste onto the streets below and often onto people using the streets. Water for home use was drawn from the closest water supply, which could easily be contaminated by free-flowing waste. During the Middle Ages, there was an awareness of the link between sanitation and disease, but no real effort was made to improve the conditions.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

The European immigrants brought similar beliefs about indecency and the harmful effects of bath­ing to America. During the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth centuries in America, little attention was given to body care. Pioneers who desired to bathe did so infrequently because it was so difficult. They first needed to find a container large enough to bathe in, and then carry in water and heat it. These obstacles also meant that clothes were washed infrequently.

Updated: September 21, 2015 — 10:38 pm