Image is a copper bathtub found on:
In the nineteenth century, people did not bathe nearly as frequently as we do today. By “bathe” I mean immersing oneself in a tub of water and scrubbing down. People in the 1860s had the idea that too much bathing was not a good thing. They did clean up by using a washbowl and soap, but bathing was a big deal.
Think about what went into a full-fledged bath: one had to heat the water or get it from the wash boiler, pour enough into a metal tub (probably enough to sit in but to not soak in), and add cool water to make the temperature comfortable. More than one person would use the same water although some scholars think children were bathed separately. When the bath was finished, the water had to be disposed of.
That explains Maggie and Emily’s excitement in Walk by Faith, when they see the copper bathtub in the bathroom at Maggie’s brother Samuel’s house. It was so modern and convenient! Maggie just gushes over it in her journal:
There are fireplaces in every bedroom, which makes sleeping quite cozy, but the miracle of miracles lies in the room next to the scullery. This contains a copper tub in which one may bathe. But that is not all to it. There are pipes connecting the tub to a wash boiler in the kitchen. Just as the boiler provides hot water for the laundry so water may be diverted into the copper bathtub. It is fitted with two faucets, one that produces hot water and another that produces cold. There is a hole at the bottom of the tub with a stopper that holds the water in. When everyone is finished bathing, one simply removes the stopper and the dirty water miraculously disappears down yet another pipe. Emily, Matilda and I took turns bathing last night. What a treat it was not to lug buckets to fill the tub and, when finished, drag all outside to empty!
In my next work-in-progress, The Good Community, Eli remembers how much his wife loved that copper tub. As he and Nate scrub down their very dirty sons, he gets a brainstorm.
Eli relaxed and glanced at Nate. “Say, seeing as how we’re sitting here with a bathtub, I was thinking.”
“Carson always says it’s dangerous when you do that.”
Eli smirked. “Not dangerous in the least. In fact, this idea might get us in good with our ladies.” He noticed Bob and frowned. “Don’t forget to wash behind your ears, Bobby.”
Lowering his voice, his continued, “You know how Maggie and Emily loved that bathtub at Samuel’s house. Nate?”
“Why don’t we put one in Greybeal House?”
Nate soaped up a cloth and attacked his son’s back. “Where would we put it?”
“There’s that little butler’s pantry in the hallway off the kitchen. It backs up to the wall with the stove.” Eli’s attention was drawn to Bob once more. “Wash under your arms, too, son. That’s right.” He addressed Nate once more. “I was figuring we could run a pipe from the wash boiler through the wall to the pantry and make it a bathroom.”
Nate considered this. “I could build a nice frame for the tub.”
“I’ve got some money stashed away. We could purchase a nice, big copper tub.”
Nate grinned. “When did you start hiding money from Maggie?” He steadied Natey with a hand to the boy’s shoulder. “Hold still, little man, I need to get that dirt out of your ears.”
“Been saving money since I realized I wanted to get our ladies something special. They deserve it.”
Allow me to clarify something. The characters in my book take a bath or wash at a bowl far more frequently than people did in the 1860s. I write them that way because I think readers might find stinky characters a bit gross. Oh, heck, I might find stinky characters a bit gross! In fact, I still don’t know how to introduce the idea that Maggie and all the other women have hair under their armpits and hairy legs. Maybe I’ll write it in someday. I may follow it up by some stinky talk. Or not.