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The Family Outhouse



Rarely seen today but in a very few remote locations, but at one time the most important small building was the home’s ‘outhouse’ or toilet facilities outside the house by many yards in distance – not indoors. The outhouse had a seat and a hole, no plumbing needed. It would average 3 to 4 feet square by 7 feet high. It was also referred to as a necessity house.  

Most of the time the family had but one outhouse, so need for a special marker. But some locations or government buildings, serving many people would have 2 or more outhouses. Since not everyone could read a symbol was placed on the door to the outhouse, one for women and the other for men. The crescent moon or moon indicated the ladies room (womanhood) while a star or sunburst represented the men’s room, this goes back to colonial times. It was a cutout in the wooden door to serve as a vent allowing air could come into the toilet facility besides providing a symbol.

Check with some family relatives and see if you can learn of your ancestors’ experiences with an outhouse.

Photos: Rural wooden outhouse; a colonial fancy outhouse in Colonial Williamsburg; outhouse in Missouri; and a one seat outhouse in Tennessee.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Farm, Field and Fireside

Colonial Occupations

Forgotten 19th Century Slang

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