July 8, 2014

To Bathe or Not to Bathe…That is the Question



  • Bathe twice a day to be really clean, once a day to be passably clean, once a week to avoid being a public menace. —Anthony Burgess

In England, officials at an amusement park said they banned patrons from putting their arms in the air during roller coaster rides due to concerns about body odor…guests who do not keep their elbows at their sides will be kicked off rides, and repeat offenders will be escorted out of the park…1

Quite the opposite from Napoleon’s directive to his wife as he was about to return home from the Russian front: I’m coming home, don’t bathe.2


Bathing is so common in our 21st century that not bathing for a number of days may sound outrageous to most people. In fact, one seldom thinks about it. In truth, …tubs are “in” right now… A tub is about a rest, not a bath…Buyers want a deep, soaking tub that can provide a lot of relief after a long day of work…Yes, you need one … (However) Bathroom designers and installers insist it is better to concentrate on a dramatic shower in the master bath and move the tub to a secondary location. The shower has dramatic power for resale, but a tub has a role in reality…But not in the master bath.

  •  Every man has a right to a Saturday night bath. —Lyndon B. Johnson

However, our American bathing habits have not always existed. Some individuals and some cultures are aficionados of natural body odor. W. T. Sedgwick, author of a 1908 public health textbook, notes that cleanliness is “doubtless an acquired taste.”…Through great periods of European and much of U.S. history, cleanliness was inconvenient, religiously restricted, or just plain out of fashion…Living unwashed were saints, the masses, and monarchs alike.3

This, in fact, explains the origin of wedding cachets and why June became the most popular month for weddings: In the Middle Ages, June weddings were advisable because brides were still somewhat clean from their annual spring bath.4

  •  “I can tell you kids grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth. When I was your age, we took a bath once a week on Saturday night, and all of us used the same bath water.”  —K. Martin Beckner in Chips of Red Paint

Historically, non-bathing was favored. Early Christian leaders concemned bathing as unspiritual:

  • In response to the debauchery of Roman baths, the early Christian church frequently discouraged cleanliness. “To those that are well, and especially to the young,” Saint Benedict in the sixth century commanded, “bathing shall seldom be permitted.”
  • Saint Francis of Assisi considered an unwashed body a stinking badge of piety. Queen Isabella of Castile boasted that she had had only two baths in her life—at birth and before her marriage.
  • “The father’s of the early church equated bodily cleanliness with the luxuries, materialism, paganism and what’s been called ‘the monstrous sensualities’ of Rome,” explains Professor Greene. Through much of the 19th century, adds Greene,

Europeans and Americans lived in wretched filth, and many died young of associated diseases.3

I’ll end here, since it’s been three years since my last bath and it’s time for me to take another. I’ll leave you with a story about two brothers who were drafted in the World War.

  • Jack and Bill, brothers, were in the draft for the World War. As the time approached for them to go before the examining board, one said to the other that he guessed maybe they had better take a bath. Accordingly, they procured wash tub, water, etc. and proceeded. During the ablutions, Jack said to his brother:“Well, what of it?” Bill snapped rather indignantly. “I’m two years older!”  
Dismantling a bath tub in the White House during a 1950 remodeling

Dismantling a bath tub in the White House during a 1950 remodeling





Rewriting Song Lyrics




4Tribune-Review, June 21, 2011,

Another Batch of Eastman’s Chestnuts, Stolen and Edited by E. R. Eastman Vol. II, copyright 1940



1 Comment »

  1. No Bath?!? Oh my, I’m glad times have changed in favor of baths. 🙂
    Queen Isabella must have never worked in the yard on hot summer evening. I always thought Napoleon was strange…

    Comment by merry101 — July 8, 2014 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

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