“The past is a foreign country…” (part 1)

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)

Hygiene: “Not that long ago, Americans and Europeans were filthy. Flies swarmed around cots. Full chamber pots sat under beds. Slops were emptied into ditches. Horses were parked outside of homes, producing an average of thirty-five pounds of manure a day…. Pigs and chickens wandered through living rooms and bedrooms. There was no running water, no showers. Bathing was an occasional luxury. To our coddled noses, the stench would have been sickening. (Source: “Dirty Laundry-The strange history of hygiene,” Joanna Bourke, Harper’s Magazine, April 2008)

Alcohol consumption: In 1790, annual per capita alcohol consumption in America (for everyone over 15) was 34 gallons of beer and cider, 5 gallons of distilled spirits, and 1 gallon of wine. One Georgian was quoted as having “…a settler after my coffee, a cooler at nine, a bracer at ten, a whetter at eleven and two or three stiffners during the afternoon….” (Source: “Drinking in Colonial America,” Ed Crews, Colonial Williamsburg)

Women shaving: American women didn’t begin shaving under their arms until around 1915 when sleeveless dresses became the fashion. In 1917, anti-arm hair ads began appearing in McCall’s magazine. Women’s razors and depilatories first appeared in the Sears and Roebuck catalog in 1922. (Source: Journal of American Culture article by Christine Hope, quoted in “The Straight Dope,” Cecil Adams)

Average height, weight, and age of a Civil War soldier: 5′ 8″, 143 pounds, 26 years. (Source: Historian Bell I. Wiley)

Schooling and literacy: In 1870, 20% of the adult population of the U.S. was illiterate. (Eighty percent of the Black population was illiterate five years after the end of the Civil War. Under slavery, it had been against the law for slaves to learn to read and write or be taught to do so.)

In 1870 in the U.S., there were 7 million children enrolled in elementary schools (primary schools), 80,000 in secondary schools, and 9,000 recipients of college degrees. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics)






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