by Maggie Brendan
I remember every year as an elementary school age child, visiting my uncle’s farm in
The outhouse, or sometimes called a privy, was constructed of wood and was placed at least 50 to 150 feet away from the house because of its unpleasant odor. Many times, in the West, people would leave the door wide open while they were using it. Luckily, my Uncle had toilet paper placed in a coffee can with rice at the bottom to keep the paper from becoming damp. Before toilet paper was invented in the 1880’s, they used corn cobs, newspapers, magazines and paper from catalogs for wiping our delicate areas.
The outhouse was usually about 3 to 4 feet square by 7 feet high with no window, or heat. The pit was dug to about 4’ 11”.The crescent moon, carved into the door which most people thought was for ventilation, wasn’t for light but as a symbol used because many people couldn’t read. The moon or ancient Luna symbol was intended for women and a sun or starburst was carved for the men. However, men’s outhouses were not usually maintained, go figure, so they would use the ladies’ outhouse. Soon everyone used the women’s outhouses, and the men’s sign was forgotten but the crescent sign was kept.
Most owners kept a bag of lime and a scoop handy, and every so often they would sprinkle a scoop over the waste to keep down the stench and kill off the bacteria. The lime decreased the acidity and the smell of the soil. When the pit filled up, the owners would dig a new hole and move the building over to the freshly dug pit, then cover the old hole with a layer of dirt.
Outhouses were found across the country into the 20th century and even a late as 1950, millions of American families still used them. The term “Crapper” became a popular term for outhouses, though it was called many other names as well. It’s said the term “crap” came from Thomas Crapper who was a plumber in
You can read more about Thomas Crapper, http://www.thomas-crapper.com/. The pluming company is still in existence. Also check out http://www.thunderboxroad.com/. A traveling exhibit of really interesting painted outhouses can be found on this site.
I am so thankful for indoor plumbing on a cold winter night or a hot summer evening. How about you?