The Saturday Night Bath

 Modern plumbing is something we take for granted these days.  But in earlier times the Saturday night bath, using a tin wash tub in the kitchen, was a family tradition.  And believe it or not, there are still people around who can remember it.  When I was growing up, my mother’s parents had indoor plumbing and a real bathtub.  But my father’s parents had no bathroom in the little house where they’d raised five children.  Baths were taken in the wash tub next to the kitchen stove, which was the warmest spot in the house.                                                                                                        

The water for the bath was heated on the stove.  Some stoves had built in reservoirs for heated water (my grandma’s stove had one of these).  Otherwise the water had to be heated in kettles on the stove top.  The whole family used the same bathwater.  The person who carried the tub inside and added water got to bathe first.  The rest followed, adding more water as it was heated.  In some households, the traditional order was father, mother, then the children in descending order of age.  In a large family, the water could be pretty grimy by the time the little ones had their turn.   This is where the old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” originated.  

And have you ever sat in a washtub?  The only way for an adult to fit would be knees to chin, with no room to move around.  So getting clean was a matter of washing the body in sections.  Remember the old song about the Hoky Poky?  “You put your left leg in, you take your left leg out, you put your left leg in, and you shake it all about…etc.?”  That’s pretty much how it was done.  The usual procedure was to start kneeling on the floor to wash your head.  Then you washed each limb and finally stepped into the tub so water wouldn’t splash on the floor while you washed your torso.  You might sit down while someone else washed your back. 

Before the advent of the indoor bathroom with running water, the ultimate luxury was a bathtub, usually of tin or copper, with enough room to stretch out (you often see these in old Western movies).  They were made narrow, often with wheels, so they could be moved through doorways for easy emptying. 

These days we’re spoiled.  We can go for a quick shower or a long, luxurious soak in a hot tub any time we want to.  I’m a shower person myself and could happily go the rest of my life without climbing into a tub.  How about you?  Does anyone else remember the tin tub days?  Do you enjoy bubble bath, candles and music?  A hot tub with company?   A session at the spa?  Writers, have you ever used a bathtub scene in a book (I have one in the Christmas novella I just finished, which is what gave me the idea for this blog)? 

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I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.

56 thoughts on “The Saturday Night Bath”

  1. LOL! I love this post, Elizabeth!

    I’m a shower gal, so those tiny tubs would have been a real drag for me 😉 We just doubled the size of our shower so we could do away with the door…it’s more like a shower cave *g*–can’t wait to move back home!!!

    As for writing tub scenes…I seem to be addicted to them *LOL* All of my books mention bathing and three of the four that are out have explicit, uhm…bathing scenes 😀 Although one of those baths is taken in a hot spring 😉

  2. Good morning, all (it’s 6 a.m. here in the West, yawn). So we have a shower cave (sounds wonderful), a sauna and a shower so far. Never tried a sauna, especially with a dip in ice cold water afterward. Is that still a common practice, Minna? And I’m with you, Maureen, on showers. In Tanzania I took lovely showers in a tent–the staff filled an overhead tank with warm water. What luxury.

  3. Oh I love long soaks in a hot bubble bath although most days I shower before work. I do have scenes in a couple of my books where the heroine is in the tub and the hero is in agony because he can’t join her. His imagination more than suffices and he must PRAY for strength to behave 🙂

    Very interesting post.

    We woke up to SNOW here in SW Louisiana this morning…though by now it’s just about all melted away, it was a lovely treat.

    Have a blessed day all!
    PamT

  4. Sure it is. Or rolling in the snow. There just seems to be very little of that white stuff right now. I’ve never liked rolling in the snow anyway, but I have swam in the lake at summer and late at autumn on my cousins’ summer cottage. But I haven’t done that at winter so far. And the sauna has to be heated with wood. Electric sauna… Ick!

  5. Elizabeth said: And believe it or not, there are still people around who can remember it.

    Hello, excuse me, Elizabeth, BELIEVE IT OR NOT?
    This is how we bathed when I was a kid. We had a shower in our unheated basement but that was ghastly in the winter. Although I think my father always used it. I don’t remember much about my father and baths…mercifully. 🙂

    We had an oval tin tub and every SATURDAY NIGHT, we’d haul that stupid tub in and Mom would begin pouring water into it, we did have electricity and hot and cold running water, so no heating water.
    The only toilet we had was downstairs, too. No avoiding that.
    We lived in a two bedroom farmhouse until the year my SIXTH brother was born. Then Mom and Dad bought another little house and hauled it home and attached it to our little house. And, shocker, it was STILL a little house.
    Because one of those two bedrooms was in fact a fold out couch in our dining room (no dining went on in there. It was really just the room between the kitchen) and the living room…plenty of living went on everywhere. 🙂
    Anyway, because one of those two bedrooms was, in fact a fold out couch in our dining room. And the OTHER bedroom was an attic with sloped ceiling…about oh 12 x 12 feet, to be wildly generous, which was up this rickey stairway and you could barely stand up straight in the middle of the room–both of those bedrooms were retired when the NEW HOUSE came. So we went from a two bedroom house to a (brace yourself for the excitement) THREE bedroom house.

    There were four girls and two boys at that time, so one double bed in each of the three bedrooms. Two boys in one, two girls in the other. (I can’t remember exactly we kept moving stuff around) I slept on that fold out couch in what we called The Middle Room, so, though everyone had to walk through it, I did, in fact, have my own room. And I suppose you could count it as a four bedroom house except the Middle Room was used for living, too. Plus my parents’ room had a crib.

    VERY SPACIOUS. And when my youngest brother (eight of us in all) was…maybe 1 year old…we got the ‘bathroom’ which had places for pipes and drains but had never been fixed up with oh…a toilet and tub and sink…fancy stuff like that…up and running before. Then we had a bathroom with a tub. I was, I suppose eleven. I’d learned to brave the cold basement and shower by that time.

    So, yeah, Saturday night bath, that was us. You know what? We didn’t care. We didn’t feel poor, or rather no poorer than every other family near us who were all huge families crammed into tiny houses. There was a big house, new, across the road from us…FOUR bedrooms…real bedroom…seven kids…the big show-offs. 🙂

  6. When I was 12, we moved from a nice house in the city, to a farm without indoor plumbing. The toilet was made of tin with a 5 gallon bucket under the seat which had to be emptied at least daily.

    Like Mary, we used an oval tin tub every Sat night in the kitchen by the woodstove.

    We only lived there for a year before moving to another city. I never talked to Mom about why we moved out there, but I bet she balked when Dad bought the place…

  7. This is how we bathed when I was a kid. We didn’t have a bathroom in the house or running water. We carried buckets of water in the house. We used a round wash tub. Also used a wringer washer to do the laundry. We didn’t have running water until I was about 8 years old and then we moved to a different house that did have an inside bathroom. We thought it was awesome and it was. Saved a lot of work.

  8. We took baths in the little oval tub until we got a full sized tub. Still a galvanized metal tub that we filled with water from the sink, but it was full sized and had to be carried out to empty.
    In the winter it was used by the stove in the kitchen and in summer on the back porch. When I was 14 we moved onto my grandparent’s farm. The house had an indoor bathroom. Hallaluja.

  9. We didn’t have a shower when I was growing up so that might be why I am so fond of them now LOL. But our two-year-old grandson was here lsat weekend and he spent about an hour playing in the tub with his boats. Too cute.

    Once in a while I take a hot bath, but we have an in-ground spa in the backyard so that kinda takes care of that.

    I love the don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater expression! Thanks for a great post, Elizabeth.

  10. Hi Elizabeth – It’s a very timely post, because over the weekend our hot water heater went out. We’re sooo spoiled we couldn’t take cold showers, so I boiled water for a sponge bath. The whole time I kept saying, I could never live like this…I need indoor plumbing, hot running water and all that goes with it!

    I’ve never been in a tub basin, but I’d venture to say it’s not comfortable. If I’m at a hotel and they have a nice big bathtub, I’ll take a bubble bath … doesn’t happen often but I remember taking bubble baths as a kid all the time.

  11. Hi, everybody, I’m back after a trip to get something fixed on my car, which took more time and money than I’d hoped (doesn’t it always?)
    I can’t believe how many of you actually bathed the old fashioned way when you were young. Mary you could have used your post as a blog. And the rest of you–Anita, Sue, and Quilt Lady. I love it that your families just got by because that’s the way life was.
    And snow in Louisiana, Pam? Hope you’re keeping warm in a nice hot bubble bath. If you were Minna you could run outside and roll in the snow afterwards.
    🙂

  12. Brrrr! Sorry about the water heater problem, Charlene. And I loved baths as a kid because I could play with toys in the tub. And my mother let me have bubble bath when I was really, really good (which wasn’t always)
    🙂

  13. Elizabeth I am remembering living on the farm and I don’t want to do that beacause when I was 8( I am only 42 now) we lived on this farm and we didn’t have indoor plumbing so we had the silver tub in the kitchen and of course the water had to be heated on the stove it was terrible. Had to go outside to potty,I was so worried about a snake or something else getting me when I was going to the outhouse it was terrible in the dark I hated to go. We had the wringer washer and guess what the laundry was my job. YUCK!!!!!!
    So when someone asks if I would move the a farm I say no way are you nuts???? I think there are some really nice farm houses out there with all the plumbing so they might not be bad but I would be affraid it would break. LOL
    I don’t feel spoiled but maybe we are now since we can go and take a bath or shower anytime we want that is soooooooo nice.
    We have a hot tub outside on our patio and it is so nice to be out there when it is snowing and you are all warm and cozy. And now it is just me and Hubby kids are all moved out.

  14. Elizabeth,

    I love my hot bath. I light some candles, add some bubbles, and soak for a while. Wouldn’t take for that. Except if I had to bathe in someone else’s water. Yuck! Doesn’t sound appealing. But there’s something about a long bath that relaxes me that a shower can’t compare to.

    I love reading bathtub scenes in books. There’s always something a bit titallating in that. I guess it’s because the character is exposed and vulnerable and you know something is always going to happen. I can’t wait for your Christmas novella. I’ll bet your story is wonderful but it’ll have to go some to beat “The Borrowed Bride.” I loved that book and recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a special love story! Judd and Hannah found exactly what they were looking for in each other. An excellent story.

  15. Mary, we could compare notes about growing up. My parents, my brother, two sisters and I lived in a tent for the first six years of my life. No bathroom, no bathtub, no bedrooms. We bathed in Mama’s washtub and she heated water on a small wood stove. We thought we were in high cotton when my daddy built a wood floor. We were certainly in the lap of luxury! NOT!

  16. I love it, Linda. A tent. Wow, good for you. You just made me remember my childhood as luxurious. Not too many people can do that.
    Please tell me you didn’t live in Nebraska. A tent would get very VERY rugged toward January up north.
    We had one oil burning stove to heat the whole house which mercifully was small…the house … well the stove too. After we added the house to our house we had TWO oil burning stoves.

    And Elizabeth, I think, perhaps, you comment about me using my post as a blog is a euphamistic way of saying, WA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-AY too long. 😀

    Gee, my childhood, mined for historical blogs. How sad is that?????????

  17. Most farm homes are very nice these days, Brenda. I do remember the last area family with an outdoor bathroom…that was since I was married.

    And we have neighbors who have a cabin on the river and they have an out door bathroom for that. VERY rustic. They own this great land and just slapped this cabin up themselves and go there to hunt and sit and watch the river go by. It’s a great place.

  18. Hi, again. Back after some Christmas shopping. Bought BOOKS for the grandkids.
    Brenda, I can’t believe how many readers here had no indoor plumbing as youngsters. I’m older than most here, and even when we lived with my grandparents while Dad was in the Navy in WWII, they had a bathroom and central heat. I had it easy. But I remember the privy at my other grandparents’. There were spider webs and I was always scared one would bite me.

  19. And you lived in a tent, Linda! Wow, there’s material for a book right there. And thanks for enjoying Borrowed Bride. It was one of those stories that almost wrote itself. Believe me, they don’t all do that! Enjoy the bubbles and candles on these cold December nights.

  20. I can just imagine one of your Mounties in a soapy bath, Kate. Heart palpitations!!
    🙂

    And Mary your post was NOT too long! That wasn’t what I meant. I loved your description of getting by in a little house. I’m sure it wasn’t easy but I’m betting you have some happy memories.

  21. And did you know that people were born in saunas? For instance my father was born in a sauna. And the dead were washed for last time in saunas, too.

  22. Well, Elizabeth, my soon to be released novel Gingham Mountain is inspired (Not based) on my childhood. Just in the sense that there are many, many children in a tiny house.
    Of course my children in Gingham Mountain are all orphans and their adoptive father badly needs a wife…so some difference. 😀

  23. Finns even took saunas to war, including the WWII and unlike Russians, didn’t suffer from all those creepy crawlies, like lice so much.

  24. Wow, Mary, I didn’t realize you came from such a big family…or that bathing was such an adventure for some of you.

    And tents? Yowza, ya’ll are hardy ladies.

    Minna, I love saunas! But giving birth in one… might be hot?

  25. Books about sauna:
    The Finnish sauna, the Japanese furo, the Indian inipi
    Arto Paasilinna: Businessman’s guide to the finnish sauna

  26. What is a Finnish one like, Minna? At the spa I go to, the sauna is a wood-lined little room with a heater/coals that you drip water on so they sizzle a bit. Then it’s nice and warm and de-stressing. But it’s nothing like a steam room which is really drippy wet.

  27. Tanya, I’ll answer that question few hours later, after I’ve gotten some sleep. It’s really late here -or early, depending on the point of view.

  28. All I know about their dry sauna is what they tell me, Minna. It’s this big closet sized box that has a bench and gets warm inside. Must be an American invention. Sleep tight.
    🙂

  29. I remember the old tin washtub only too well.I never had indoor plumbing until I married in 1961. My parents still didn’t have indoor plumbing when my Father passed away in 1971. My Mother then moved to town, where she had indoor plumbing.

  30. A sauna? Is that what it’s called? I call it my work car in July. I have GOT to ditch that 1992 Tempo but the piece of junk just keeps RUNNING!

    Now that I know I’m in a sauna, I can start enjoying my commute to work.

  31. So, about sauna… First of all, sauna is a Finnish word. I’m not going to talk about public saunas, because the kind I’ve been to in swimming halls are pretty much like that dry sauna mentioned earlier and those are just awful. Although as far as I know, there are still some public saunas that are heated with wood. There are different types of saunas, like smoke sauna, which is one of the oldest sauna types, which is basically a sauna without a chimney. Those saunas also burn every once in a while.
    Sauna is warmed to 60-100 degrees Celsius (140-210 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on how hot you like it. Water is thrown -not dripped- on the hot stones topping the kiuas, a special stove used to warm up the sauna. Also many of the electric sauna stoves have been designed in such a way that you can throw water on the hot stones topping the kiuas.

  32. And Finns make saunas pretty much everywhere and sometimes out of the most incredible things, like ice, believe it or not. And Mary, I’m pretty sure there are Finns in this world who turn cars into saunas.

  33. Oh, and we don’t say “throw water on the kiuas”. We say “throw löyly on the kiuas”. “Löyly” means spirit or soul.

  34. Thanks for educating us about saunas, Minna. Don’t think I’d like the smoky kind–afraid I’d come out looking like a smoked ham.
    🙂
    Thanks for your great contribution to this blog!
    Elizabeth

  35. I love the old bathtub image in your post. We had indoor plumbing when I was a child but Mom kept the old bathtub. She put it in the backyard and my cousin and I used it as a “swimming pool.” I have a photo of the two of us in swimsuits packed into that tub like a pair of sardines and having a great time.

  36. Love your comment, Cynthia. My cousin and I used to do the same thing with my aunt’s old tub. We would play we were mermaids. What a grand time.
    Kids today miss out on a lot of simple fun.
    🙂

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