At the end of my post on Edwardian undergarments I touched on the subject of hygiene. Most of the commenters seemed to be bothered especially by the idea of not being able to shower so I think that's a good place to start.
Through the advances in science and medicine in the 19th century regular bathing began to be recognized as beneficial to individual health. While showers existed in the Edwardian Era they were considered a novelty or a medical treatment and so were not common in the home. However, by the turn of the century most new country houses in England were designed to include indoor plumbing with cold and hot water. According to Jill Franklin's article "Troops of Servants: Labor and Planning in the Country House 1840-1914," some owners of older homes were hesitant to install plumbing for fear of tearing up the structure; or they just didn't really see the point, preferring the Victorian way of bathing with a manually filled tub next to the fireplace. While that method sounds nice and romantic for the bather, it wasn't so much for the poor jerk filling the tub bucket by bucket. This lack of plumbing seems unlikely to be the case at Downton for a couple of reasons. One is that we never see the giant hulking servants called water men that would have been employed to haul the water all around the place; another is that Cora is from America where indoor plumbing and regular bathing had caught on much earlier and I don't think she would have put up with Robert being hesitant. That doesn't mean they had a large number of bathrooms relative to the size of the house. Due to the age of Downton Abbey, it would not have been originally built with indoor bathrooms so they would have had to convert linen closets or smaller rooms. Also, many people at that time considered bathrooms unseemly and, in order that guests wouldn't see them, there might only be a few in the private family quarters and two in the servants quarters, one for maidservants and one for menservants. The room wouldn't look much different from what we know now, a toilet, a sink, a mirror, and a tub, but no shower. They also had WCs with just a sink and toilet.
With the convenience of running water Lords and Ladies could bathe every day, sometimes more often in the hot summer months. However they rarely washed their hair at the same time. It was still considered risky to wet the head because one could catch cold. Also it was not recommended to wash the hair more than once per week. Honestly, considering that they often used bar soap crushed up and mixed with water to wash their hair it probably would have gotten really dried out if they'd washed it every day. I did find an interesting blog called The Gibson Girl's Guide to Glamor, here http://gibsonglamor....way-by-not.html she has a post about her experiment with not washing her hair for a week. Pretty interesting. Women would just brush and comb their hair often to get the dirt out. They also had an early form of the modern toothbrush, made of horse hair, as well as tooth powder, made of things like chalk and salt, for cleaning. Toothpaste was available but powder was more popular until after WWI.
Working class people of that time period typically bathed only once per week. Middle class might bathe two times. It's hard to place the house servants in a class because while they definitely weren't middle class like Mathew Crawly they weren't factory workers either. I don't know how often they might have a bath in a week but they might not have had time for more than one; especially since they had to share with all of the other servants. Still, we shouldn't imagine some Dickensian dirty, stinking, street urchins(regardless of what Elizabeth Newby says, she's not even a historian she's a journalist, sorry I'll stop before the rant comes on). They would have washed their faces and hands every morning and night and probably gave themselves a kind of quick sponge bath-like going over with a rag in a wash basin more regularly. I once went on a three week back-country hiking trip in Colorado where that was all we could do and while none of us smelled very wonderful(especially the boys) we weren't appalling either. It was really our clothing that smelled a bit since we only had the few changes we could carry on our backs. Working class people in the early 20th century might have three sets of underwear, a manservant might have two work shirts and a church shirt, all washed once a week. So if the servants smelled then it was probably their clothing more than anything else. Edwardians did have commercial and homemade deodorant powders but only women used them as it was considered effeminate for a man to use deodorant. I'm sure that was pleasant, my husband showers every morning but I would definitely be able to tell by the evening if he didn't use deodorant. It was, nevertheless, socially acceptable for men to use flowery smelling aftershave.
In the Edwardian period women might pluck unsightly eyebrow or lip hairs but it was not common or expected for them to shave any body hair. However, after the introduction of sleeveless dresses in women's fashion an intense American advertizing campaign began in 1915 which aimed, as Christine Hope says in "Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture", "to inform American womanhood of a problem that till then it didn't know it had, namely unsightly underarm hair." That is when trendy women of America and England first began shaving their underarms. Legs where not shaved until the1940s when hemlines rose up to the knees. So Anna, Lady Grantham, and even Lady Mary all have hairy legs and possibly armpits under those beautiful dresses. A lovely image, I hope I'm not ruining the show for you already because that's nothing.
Ok now let's get gross! If you have a sensitive stomach you may want to stop here. Digestive regularity was actually very important to Victorians and Edwardians and, oddly, a perfectly acceptable topic for discussion at dinner and wherever. Before plumbing, in their rooms people would have had chamber pots, literally 'a pot to piss in' that had to be taken outside and dumped into a cesspool. The nobles had fancy wooden chairs with a hole in the middle and a cabinet to hold the pot. Servants would just have to go outside or have a pot in their room, probably just kept under the bed until needed. Imagine sharing a room with someone who is going woo into a pot right there in the room with you. Ew! But fear not, because we've already established that Downton Abbey probably has flushing toilets even though we haven't actually seen one. They probably even have toilets in the servants quarters, which is good news for Daisy because one of her jobs when she was the Scullery Maid would have been to empty the chamber pots of the other servants. You may wonder how they cleaned themselves after going woo. (or you may not wonder that because you're not a weirdo like me and fascinated by icky stuff) They didn't use their left hand or anything like in the Middle Ages. In fact, toilet paper had been around for a while by the Edwardian period. It originally came in a box of sheets but by the time the show takes place it typically came in the modern roll form. I once saw a vintage advertizement for 'new and improved' toilet paper with fewer splinters...not none, just fewer...and that was the the 1930s! I cringe to think of those poor Edwardian bums.
Now I'm going to get into another level of gross. Boys can stop reading hear if they are squeamish. If you're a woman, surely you have to wonder how women in another time would have handled that annoying time of the month. It's actually hard to find a lot about it because most of history was written by men and they clearly don't like to talk about it(not that I'm loving talking about it either, I just don't want to leave anything out). In the late 19th/early 20th century tampons actually existed but they were only used in war zones to stop bleeding from injuries. Commercial disposable pads were available by the 1890s but were not as popular as cloths made at home. There are anecdotal stories of women using a cloth and just placing it between the legs, with nothing but the legs to hold it there, sometimes it fell out. There are also stories of women stuffing saches of cheesecloth and cotton up there similar to a the way a tampon works. Even as late as the early 1900s, lower class and rural women often didn't use anything at all, especially in Germany. The blood would get all over their chemise and drip onto the ground or the factory floor. In France, women were asked not to work during their periods. This way of not doing anything about it would obviously be really gross and noticeable inside a great fancy house so I think it seems unlikely that this would be the case even for the maids at Downton Abbey. In England and America they could wear a rag that was attached to a belt and they would wash and reuse it. It would be the Lady's Maid's job to wash the Lady's. On another note; working class women actually might have had fewer periods. Firstly they started later in their teens, furthermore they were sick more frequently, were often under or malnourished, and were constantly engaged in strenuous physical activity, all of which can cause amenorrhea or lack of menstruation. So at least they had that going for them....?
There is probably a lot more I could add if I wanted to cover the topics of sex and babies but I think I'll stop here because this post is already long.
I hope it was informative and not too disturbing for anyone. I found my information in several books and articles, not all of which are sited here because it's cumbersome when writing and I'm not submitting this to a professor or anything. If you'd like to know a source of some information feel free to ask.
Edited by SiobhanML, 20 May 2012 - 01:41 PM.