The Outhouse

It is hard to imagine but many of our ancestors even just 70 years ago had no idea about having a bathroom and toilet inside their home. Having an ‘outhouse’, outside the separate small building as your toilet was the norm, accepted practice everywhere.

It was a pit latrine or a bucket latrine and non-flushing. It did provide privacy, with waste going into the ground. Having a roof protected from animals or rain coming in also. Being made of wood, they were also movable once the earth dug a hole was too full. 

The term ‘outhouse’ was common in America, and in other world locations terms like necessaries, pit, privy, bog, little house, back house, dunny, or a loo to name a few.

Of course, if someone lived in a large city in a building with many apartments, having an outhouse might have been hard. Instead, they had inside chamber pots. These pots would then be dumped into the streets, with the resulting lack of sanitation contributing to the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid fever. Plus you really had to watch above as you walked the street that noting was coming down then. 

Over the years the American outhouse was marked for ladies and one for men. The ladies had a crescent moon design and men’s a star on the door. It is not surprising that the crescent moon outhouses tended to hold up better over the years.

In the 1930s in America, a big improvement came about. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had three-man WPA work teams replaced old outhouses in rural areas. They could build one in 20 hours at a cost of $5 that included concrete floors, one or two seaters and screened ventilation. Over 2 million such outhouses were built by the WPA. Eleanor Roosevelt’s championing of the WPA outhouse reconstruction program coined two more nicknames for outhouses; “the Eleanor” and “the White House”. That may have been a big improvement for some of your ancestors.

The more modern version today of an outhouse is the plastic ‘portalets’ supplied and cared for by companies, especially found at fairs, carnivals, construction sights and parks.

Photos: Examples of outhouses and modern-day portalets.

Related Blog:

Public Restrooms

< Return To Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.