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A Dip in the "Hat Tub"

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Do these hot summer days have you wishing to cool off with a nice bath? Well how would you feel about these two bathing options from Longmeadow Historical Society's Collection at the Storrs House Museum?

In the days before central air and rotating electric fans, your options for keeping cool were rather limited! And washing off at the end of a long, hot day was hardly refreshing.

Consider this mid-19th "hat tub," so named for its resemblance to a gentleman's hat if you flipped it over. It would have been perfect for a standing bath, but certainly not a long, casual soak. You would stand in the middle and let the soapy water run down into the base of the tub. When finished, you could pour out the dirty water from the spout. The flat surface is not for sitting--it's for your pitcher of water and soap!

Or this pretty English pearlware pitcher and washbowl set (c. 1820-1840) for your bed chamber? The bowl fits within a hole in the top of the washstand made to hold it. Add clean, cool water and freshen up with a linen towel.

Domestic arts expert and Hartford resident Catherine Beecher proclaimed in her 1869 book, The American Woman's Home, bathing to be necessary for maintain one's health, but it needn't be done by immersing ones "whole person" in a large tub: "A wet towel, applied every morning to the skin, followed by friction in pure air, is all that is absolutely needed."

Similarly, Lydia Marie Child in her Family Nurse: A Companion to the American Frugal Housewife recommended that a person should, "Wash your whole person thoroughly once or twice a week; and wash yourself with a coarse crash towel, or brush, till the surface glows. ..If done at night, it is apt to induce refreshing sleep." Refreshing indeed!

Contributed by Melissa M. Cybulski, Board member, Longmeadow Historical Society

Originally published July 30, 2020

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