Exploring hygiene practices in colonial America reveals a stark contrast to modern cleanliness standards. At that time, full-body baths were a rarity, primarily reserved for infants to toughen them against disease, not for cleaning.
Adults and children merely rinsed their faces and hands in the morning, often without soap. Those with access to bathtubs typically used them for sponge baths without soap.
Public hygiene was equally concerning, with outhouses close to water sources, contributing to disease spread. Sanitation in colonial America left much to be desired. Streets were often strewn with garbage and animal waste, causing diseases like dysentery and typhoid fever to proliferate. Notably, even amidst the scientific ambiguity regarding hygiene, religious beliefs played a vital role.
The Puritans, for instance, viewed cleanliness as a moral issue, linking spiritual health to personal and environmental cleanliness. While private bathing was encouraged, public bathing was discouraged due to concerns of moral decay and disease transmission.
Dental care was rudimentary, with toothaches common, and dentists scarce. Tooth extractions were performed by various tradesmen, and wooden dentures or implants were used. Maintaining oral hygiene was secondary to addressing dental issues.
Powdered wigs were in vogue, and head-shaving was a preventive measure against lice infestations. However, wig care was complex, involving frequent cleaning and fragrant treatments to repel bugs.
Top image: Hygiene in Colonial America was often terrible. Source: MichaelVi / Adobe Stock.