sanitary-unitThink your bathroom is a problem? Let us not forget that until well after WWII, many homes in America did not have indoor bathrooms. My mom and grandmother, in Shenandoah, Pa. — outhouse out back until they moved to an apartment in 1950.  Dad — farm in Aneta, North Dakota — outhouse ’til about the same time. The poster at left, produced between 1936 and 1941 as part of the Work Projects Administration Federal Art Project, appears to indicate that many homes didn’t even have outhouses. Gulp. Image: Library of Congress.

  1. Mickey says:

    When I bought my 1934 lake cabin, you could tell there had once been one in the back yard… however all that was left was a foot deep tench, so i filled it with gravel and packed it down and now it just blends in with the fire pit in the back yard.

  2. Nina462 says:

    My grandma & grandpa had an outhouse until my mom moved to the “big city” of Grand Rapids and sent them money to have a bathroom installed inside.
    That was 1952, and in Michigan. Not so long ago, it seems.

  3. atomicbowler-dave says:

    Wow! That’s a lot of outhouse memories to be sure.
    A friend of mine about 20 years ago had a piece of property he had bought that he was someday going to put a house on. Of course, affording the property at the time meant he had no running water while living in a trailer. Dedicated man, he was. I remember he asked me once if I could help him with some excavation work on the weekend (he was a really good friend and had helped me on a few big things gratis already, after all). Guess what he wanted help SHOVELING!!!! EEEEeeeewwww!!!!

  4. sumac sue says:

    My paternal grandma had an outhouse in the early 1960s, in rural southern Ohio. She was the only one in the family to have one, so the grandkids thought it was pretty nifty. She also had a little bucket under her bed so that she didn’t have to go outside at night. I wanted my mom to let us kids keep such buckets under our beds, but she said no, we could walk down the hall to the bathroom.

    So, while I never lived in a home with an outhouse, I did move into a rural area of Kentucky that still had telephone party lines in the 1980s. That was strange, sharing a phone line with another family. Also, our house, a two-story farmhouse, had no electrical outlets or light sockets in the upstairs. When the rural electric cooperative brought electricity into that area in the late 1950s, families did not think they needed electricity upstairs — that area was just for sleeping, after all. We had electricity put in upstairs — had to be able to read in bed at night, and have a clock radio, of course.

  5. Sara Tinkelman says:

    I was born in the ’50s and every summer we traveled to rural Pennsylvania (closest town of any size, Towanda, was a twisty-turn-y, nightmare of a 10 mile drive) where my great-grandparents had in 1932 purchased a tract of land along the Susquehana River. It had a dilapidated barn, an old building that had once housed a general store, a few acres of land and a huge farmhouse built in the 1850s. I had to leave a comment today because at the time my great-grandparents moved in the WPA came through the valley and built a solid, safe, sanitary two-seater outhouse on the property, identical to the one pictured. My extended family has carefully maintained it over all these years and it is neither smelly nor creature-infested. I’ve lived with indoor plumbing all my life, which is why using the outhouse (and the occasional chamber pot) has been important for me. How else could I otherwise appreciate my pastel bathroom???

  6. Fiona - Notorious Kitsch says:

    We had an outhouse until I was 11 (I’m only 42) but our house was built in the late 1800s! When it was modernised it was quite a revelation! The building still stands and mum uses it as a shed now.

    My grandparents lived on a farm in the wilds of Scotland and had an outhouse the whole time they lived there until I was about 8 I think and what’s worse is it didn’t have plumbing, so poor grandad has to dispose of said contents on a daily basis! Can’t believe that was still happening even into the 70’s!

    I hated my grandparents outhouse as it was on a farm the possibility of meeting a rat or suchlike was high, happened to me once and somehow using the chamber pot when it got dark suddenly got easier once I met that rat!

  7. Wow. That’s an eye-opener, Pam. I guess plumbing is an expensive and disruptive process in a house originally built without it.

    Our former house, built in 1917, had a door on the back porch leading to a toilet inside the house, presumably during a transitional phase of moving plumbing inside.

    Give me a flush toilet, indoors, any day, and a sink to wash up in!

  8. Retro Junkie says:

    My family has their roots in Kentucky, but I was born in Washington state, We would go to visit when I was young and like Michael, I was terrified thinking that there was snakes in there. My Aunts not only had outhouses, they also had to carry water. I believe they were from hardier stock than we are now!

  9. Tut says:

    My grandparents still had theirs until the late ’70s I believe. A 2-holer between the house and barn. It was the spiders—not snakes—that I imagined living just under the seat board.

    What would’ve been funny is if they’d painted it pink with little poodles on the walls. Barnyard magnifique!

  10. My grandmother didn’t have indoor plumbing until she moved out of her farm house into a mobile home my parents had moved into her garden somewhere around 1990. I am fairly certain that I am one of the few people my age (at least in my area, I’m 27) that has actually used a real outhouse, and in the winter a chamber pot. I was around 8 years old when “Granny” moved into her new house. I always hated going back to that outhouse…I was afraid there might be snakes in there! Thankfully, I never found one in it.

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