In York County, people who lived in town had indoor bathrooms and running water many years before farm families living in the country. Stan Jensen envied his cousins because their house in town had an indoor bathroom. His family used an outhouse.
But when the electric lines reached rural homes, indoor plumbing was not far behind. For one thing, electricity ignited the desire in rural families for other modern conveniences. For another thing, electricity made it possible to pump water into indoor water pipes. And like electricity, indoor plumbing was a revolution in rural life.
Helen Bolton says before electricity they took baths once a week on Saturday nights. And several members of the family used the same bathwater. By the end of the 1930s, more and more farmhouses were hooked up to electricity. Farm families started to enjoy the convenience of indoor bathrooms and running water for baths and washing dishes and clothes.
Before farmhouses had running water, families used outhouses (summer and winter) with no toilet paper and took baths once a week, sharing bathwater that had been heated on the stove.
Stan Jensen remembers carrying water for the weekly bath – every week, whether or not he needed it. Millie Opitz says her family didn’t buy toilet paper. They got – well, creative in finding a source for toilet paper. (Watch the video to see what they used.)
Public health got better with running water as pits under outhouses were filled in. Herman Goertzen says he was in grade school when they moved into a house with a water pump at the sink. He says it “was a fantastic thing. You could pump that handle and you could get water coming out of it” – much better than hauling buckets of water into the house.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.