How the ladies of Victorian England secured access to public toilets
How the ladies of Victorian England secured access to public toilets
How the ladies of Victorian England secured the ability to use public toilets. Painting by James Tissot

Victorian England at the same time fascinates with its desire to ennoble and decorate literally everything in life and terrifies the seamy side of this strange, elegant and sentimental world. A woman there, for example, should not have been born at all. You were in for humiliation at every step, even in such an elementary thing as going to the restroom.

The history of public flush latrines, aside from the Bronze Age or antiquity, begins in 1851. At the World's Fair in London that year, a lot of interesting things were shown, but almost the biggest sensation was caused by the public toilet, which was first arranged at a major event, which - taking into account the peculiarities of only invented plumbing and the number of visitors - was easy to find due to the incessant noise, similar to Roar of Niagara Falls. During the exhibition, it was visited by 827,000 people, and at that time it was a Number with a capital C. Only three times as many lived in London at that time.

The London World's Fair was a huge event

The toilet fascinated the British so much that the following year, many were opened all over the British island. True, there was a nuance: almost all the opened establishments were for men. First, it never occurred to many of the organizers that women have all the same base needs as men. Secondly, those who opened the women's toilets were immediately blamed for … supporting prostitution. Like, it is impossible to imagine that a decent lady would lift her skirts somewhere outside the house, her own or another equally decent lady.

In general, there were so many interesting representations about decent women that all the victims of Jack the Ripper, for example, were called prostitutes in the newspapers. Well, what, they were walking down the street late in the evening. However, a study of biographies showed that most of his victims … returned from the most ordinary, very far from prostitution work. After all, the working day was then irregular. And then on this false assumption from the newspapers from generation to generation, whole theories about the motives and psychological characteristics of the maniac were built.

A still from the TV series "Ripper Street"

There was another problem with public toilets. They were designed, of course, by men - after all, this is the middle of the nineteenth century - and they, with all their desire to please the ladies, had no idea what kind of operations she had to do in the toilet, and it was possible to take and ask someone in Victorian England was not presented. As a result, the establishments took little into account the size of the skirts, the way they were treated when visiting, the fact that a simpler social class lady had to carry various things herself, such as a bag and an umbrella, and put them on the floor or leave them far away from her. mirrors, she did not want her things at all. Frank complaints about all these inconveniences were also impossible.

Many opponents of women's toilets said bluntly that they give women too much freedom of movement, and who wants this for their wife? Where and why should she leave home further and for longer than her bladder can withstand? It is true, the possibilities of the bladder severely limited women, for the duration of the walks among the ladies there was a playful expression reflecting this factor, and if it was necessary to spend more than an hour outside the house (for example, go shopping or to the theater with everyone), the lady could not drink all day, just not to suffer afterwards.Dehydration was one of the many reasons Victorian ladies passed out so often.

The designers of toilets did not take into account the fashion trends of Victorian England well

It is not surprising that among the British ladies there were many who fully appreciated the innovation. At the same time, in the fifties, an English women's society was created, advocating "for sanitation", that is, for the availability of toilets. They published brochures, gave lectures, addressed the mayors, and from time to time they were heard. True, some of the demands of individual activists shocked the statesmen, because they, until the women's toilets were built, offered to allow ladies to visit the men's ones. What a debauchery!

It did not even occur to statesmen that the English lady had nowhere to know that in men's public toilets, gentlemen, under the glances of other gentlemen, expose their shameful parts of their bodies to urinate - after all, there were no urinals in women's toilets and the shyness of the ladies was protected by almost the same booths, as in modern establishments.

Painting by James Tissot

The activities of women fighting for the availability of public toilets have met with mixed success. There is a known case when a model of a women's toilet was placed on one street in order to understand whether it was convenient to put it there, and the men began to deliberately bump into this model on carriages to make it clear how much it interfered.

Ultimately, the situation was reversed by two forces: suffragettes and business. The first ones in several decades managed to significantly influence public opinion, eventually finding as many supporters of their sensible ideas as opponents. In the second case, at the end of the nineteenth - the beginning of the twentieth centuries, the development of giant department stores, in which literally everything was arranged so that the lady who came would linger longer - and in the end, with a high probability, would buy more.

Naturally, the owners of department stores could not allow the lady to run away only because of an overflowing bladder. It was the same with cafes, which began to expand their audience at the expense of companies of decent women. It became much easier for the ladies to move around the city. Until now, in some Russian cities, just like more than a hundred years ago, the main public toilet in the city is the one located in the shopping center.

How the nineteenth century was unkind to a woman can be understood by learning what professions did women "choose" about 150 years ago, and what were they most often sick with? because of their work.

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