With the present interest in social distancing and viral disease prevention, I reflect back on my life and personal hygiene. You may have difficulty understanding my title and the relationship of these two items. Let me try to clarify my point. At the MTC (Missionary Training Center) we received instruction on health and safety as senior missionaries. Many missionaries lose time because of illness. Careful washing of hands has been shown to reduce lost time by missionaries in the field. We were instructed to wash our hands for an extended period of time. A good measure of washing time would be to recite Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This would meet two important needs of a missionary: it would, help reduce illness and help keep our focus on our mission. This training started me thinking about personal hygiene and how it has changed in my lifetime.
I was born in a three-room house before the Payson Hospital was completed; Kathryn was born nine months later in the Payson Hospital. The three-room house had no running water and only three or four electric lights. We joked that the only running was us to get water, especially in the cold of winter. The closest tap was out in the yard; the four chicken coops and barn yard had running water. When Grandma Tanner first moved to the farm, she had to walk a mile to the spring for potable water. She was very happy when they drilled a well and found water. To wash our hands for meals we had a wash bowl, soap, and a towel setting on the table or bench. If we were lucky the water was heated and clean. After everyone washed up, the water was taken outside and reused on the lawn or flower garden. There was no plumbing in the house. I cannot remember washing up after using the outhouse but I am sure that mom told me to. In the summer hot water was a luxury because you didn’t want to heat the house just to heat water. In the winter hot water was no problem because the kitchen stove was hot all the time. Keeping the stove hot required someone to fill the coal bucket from the coal-shed. Soap was generally a green bar of Palmolive. Mom was convinced that Ivory was wasteful. I wondered why people wanted a soap that floated. Couldn’t they reach two inches in the wash basin. When I bathed in the tub the water was only 3-4 inches deep. Only once did I bathe in a real tub where floating soap would be useful. One time we rendered lard and made soap using alkali or potash. This soap was used for clothes and and scrubbing floors. Mom said it would burn my skin if I used it. I did know that burns hurt but I couldn’t see how water and soap could burn you. And I never tested it!
After the war we acquired an electric stove and a refrigerator.We were happy to get rid of the old kitchen stove and the ice box. These two purchases made a big difference in our lives. This was especially nice in the summer because you didn’t have to fire up the coal stove to cook meals or heat water. The electric stove was very good for cooking dinner and warming water. Because it did not heat the whole house it was a benefit in the summer, but it was not useful to heat the kitchen in the winter. I remember that the stove had a deep-well cooker that was neat for cooking corn on the cob. The refrigerator allowed us to keep items cool and some frozen. You could even make ice cubes. To keep larger amounts frozen we had a locker at Dixon cold storage. Blanchard Dixon would come to the home and kill a pig, butcher, wrap the meat, and place it in our locker. He would also process deer for us. Many friends would fill their locker with home grown beef, but we never did.
Bathing was quit an affair. We started by running outside to get water from the tap and then heating it on the stove. In the winter the tub was placed in the living room in front of the coal stove. It takes quite a bit of water to fill the number two tub for bathing if you are carrying it by hand, even longer if you are heating it on a stove. I was first in the tub with a couple of inches of water. After my bath more warm water was added for mom and then more for dad. Yes the water was getting dirty as we went. I remember one day dad and I went up to Grandpa Wilson’s house and bathed in the real tub. I was pretty small and with the two of us in the tub the water was higher than the overflow drain. I was worried because I was almost floating. This was a sensation that I had never experienced. When we were lucky enough to have Sue, I was the second one in the tub. I am not sure how often we bathed in the tub probably, once a week. As you know people talked about a Saturday night bath. The water then had to be taken outside. I should add that with the wash bowl and wash rag you could get a partial bath more often. If I were too dirty, I was scrubbed by my mother.
Laundry was another task that required heating water and then washing, rinsing, and drying the clothes. The washer was stored and used outside of the house. The washer consisted of an agitator and a wringer. Mom had a dual rinse tub for removing the soap. Hot water was always used to wash the clothes, thus we had the same running and heating of water, but on a larger scale, for the washing machine. Laundry would be placed in the washer and agitated for several minutes, then run through the wringer into the first rinse tub. The wringer consisted of two rubberized rollers that would rotate and pull the laundry through, squeezing out the soapy water. The soapy water would drain back into the washer tub and wet laundry would drop into the first rinse tub. The clothes were then untangled and rinsed for a period of time. Then the wringer could be swung around and used to remove the rinse water from the clothes as the were transferred to the second rinse tub. After the second rinsing the wringer was used again to remove water and the clothes would fall into a laundry basket. The wet washed clothes were hung on a line using clothespins or clamps. When the clothes were dried they were collected and taken in the house for ironing and/or folding. This was a laborious process. Clothes were washed on Monday and ironed on Tuesday.
The outhouse was a scary place. Our outhouse was a two seater but I never remember having anyone in there when I was using it. Toilet paper was often the news paper or the Sears catalogue. Good toilet paper was a real luxury. I remember spending much time reading the catalogue and then tearing out a page to complete the task at hand. In winter I didn’t spend any more time than I had to because there was no heat. Some of my friends had a chamber pot in their room but we didn’t have room for a potty. Grandma Tanner had a potty that I remember using when I stayed overnight at the farm. One of the big steps forward in the New Deal was the building and standardization of outdoor toilets.
One Sunday morning I went to visit the outhouse in my shorts thinking that no one would see me. I stepped on a nail as I crossed the wooden bridge near the outhouse. I don’t know if the pain or blood caused me to scream at the top of my lungs. Then I felt like everyone in town saw me there in my shorts. Oh, that was embarrassing for me and my mother. I remember no reprimand and none was needed. After that I took time to put on some pants and shoes before heading to the outhouse. Outhouses were just that because no one wanted them too close to the real house.
In the summer outhouses were teeming with flies and wasps. As cold weather came the insects disappeared. In the kitchen we had flypaper to catch flies. The flypaper came rolled up in a tube which pulled out to a spiral and hung on the sealing. The individual rolls or spirals were hanging in and around homes. It was interesting to me to find out that flypaper is still in use in GMO plant labs. The new ones are papers rather than spirals, but you can still buy both. We used DDT in the barn and around animals. We noted that the flies were becoming more resistant during my child hood. Eventually DDT was outlawed. I remember seeing World War II newsreels when prisoners were de-loused with DDT powder. Probably the great reduction in flies is due to good sanitation, such as removal of outhouses.
As long as I can remember Dad and Mom had a dream of building a new house. They bought “war bonds” to save for their new home. When Dad got a job at Geneva Steel they contracted to build their dream home which was finished in 1948. The kitchen was removed from the three room house to allow the new house to be built. For a short period we lived in these two rooms. In preparation for loss of the kitchen. Dad designed and had built a cabinet to hold our wash basin in the living room. This was important to me because we had a special place to wash up. I thought that was neat. I can vaguely remember seeing the plans for the new five room house: kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the main floor. There was an unfinished basement with a bedroom for me and a wash room for the clothes. We even had a laundry chute going from the bathroom to the basement. I remember that we could crawl down the laundry chute to the basement. That was before I developed my claustrophobia.
Living in the two room house was exciting for two reasons: first, we could see progress on the new house and second, we were crowded. The bedroom had a double bed for Mom and Dad and a bunk bed for Sue and me. I got to sleep on the top bunk. We bathed, cooked, ate, ironed, and listened to the radio in the living room. Now we were looking forward to soft water. I thought hard water was ice.
One of my special memories of the new house occurred before we actually moved in. This evening was special because the furnace was working. We laid on the newly carpeted floor in front of a heat vent and warm air was forced into the room. This was quite different from the heat from our old coal stove where the cold air was around the base of the stove. Thus the new house was really going to be great. We then took turns bathing in the new tub. Hot water came from the faucet. We each had new water for our bath for the first time. This was an unbelievable treat for all of us. Soon we would move in for good. No more running for water and no more heating water on the stove for a bath.
This new house changed our personal grooming. Now we had a flush toilet, a bath tub, a wash basin, a medicine cabinet with a mirror, and a laundry chute. We had a water softener and heater. The white porcelain bath tub was much larger than the round galvanized number two tub used in the old house. After a bath you just pulled the plug and the water ran out rather than being carried out of the house. The toilet was a significant improvement over the wood slab bench in the outhouse. The temperature was controlled and the insects were absent. The sink was an improvement over the wash basin. The door of the medicine cabinet was a mirror. The cabinet contained shelves for storing medicines, bandages etc. Important here was a nice place to store your tooth brushes and tooth paste. The slot at the back was a safe place to dispose of used Gillette blades. The blades went into the interior wall space. The laundry chute allowed one to send clothes to the basement for washing. It also was a secret passageway for small children into or out of the bathroom.
The laundry chute opened up in the basement near a new washing machine that washed, rinsed, and spun the clothes ready for drying. The clothes were then lugged up the stairs and hung on the new clothes line. The freshly dried clothes would be collected and taken into the house for ironing with an electric iron. Soon clothes would not need blueing starching and ironing. Many people had ironing machines or mangles, but Mom never had one. Soon electric dryers were available. The labor involved in washing and ironing clothes was significantly reduced.
The new house was a step forward in many areas of our life, but the first and foremost was the capacity for improved personal hygiene. My problem was I still had my old habits that needed changing, and improvement came about much slower than needed. My parents were good role models but sometimes I missed the message. My first formal training in hygiene came during my kindergarten summer. Mrs. McClellan took the boys to the bathroom and taught us about the facilities. She sternly emphasized that washing up was important before returning to the classroom. My second training period came up by chance when I was on sabbatical leave in Salt Lake City. On our drive west a leak developed in our power steering system. I patched it up with plastic tape. When I got to Salt Lake City, my brother Scott offered to help me fix it. After working on the car we had greasy hands. Scott told me to put liquid detergent on my hands and rub it in before adding water. Sure enough my hands cleaned right up. This made good sense from a chemical point of view. I have never forgotten this lesson. Several years later I helped deliver “Meals on Wheels” one day per week. All Volunteer workers had to attend regularly scheduled training sessions. At this time I was taught to wash my hands and use the back of my hand to turn off the faucet. The last class was at the MTC where the time element was added.
Our green Palmolive soap gave way to the “antibacterial” gold Dial which was taken from the markets due to problems with hexachlorophene. Our next soap was provided by Naomi from the cabins at Bryce Canyon. This preowned soap just could not be thrown away, so we used it. We learned that this soap lasted much longer if you stored it on top of the water heater to dry it out. Thus, the trick to soap economy is to keep it dry between uses. Soap manufacturers want to sell hydrated soap because you use more and buy more. Linda likes to have many kinds of pretty soap. My problem with pretty soap is that it washes away too fast. Linda likes to change soaps often so washing away is not a problem to her. I like to have a pretty bar of soap and keep it for a long time yet wash for a long enough time to be safe. My technique is to add a small amount of water to a bar then rub the wet side of the bar with one hand transferring a layer of soap to my hand, then put the soap in the dish. Next add small amounts of water to the soapy hand and voila bubbles. Add more water slowly and scrub my hands and then rinse completely. In conclusion, using small amounts of water converts the bar soap to a consistency similar to dish soap. This removes grease like Scott’s dish soap. Adding more water removes the water soluble materials. Final rinsing removes particles dissolved in the soap.
I have learned many things and have seen many changes in personal hygiene. Over the years we have gone from outhouses, lye soap, and weekly baths in galvanized tubs to beautiful indoor bathrooms, fancy soaps, and daily showers. Oh what a difference of 80 years make!