Women and Plumbing

Although we take it for granted today, Indoor plumbing is one of the most important technological achievements in recent times.

Although we have talked a bit about Women and Technology in this class, I remember learning a lot more about it in “History of Technology.” When all of these new innovations and inventions were coming out in the early 20th century and later, it seemed like women were going to be able to have a lot more free time. Being able to cook in the house, have electronic refrigerators, good vacuums, washing machines, and plumbing would make their lives much easier. In reality, this just took the physical labor out of their work. It allowed for more work to be done in the allotted time.

Water Pump [2]
Before indoor plumbing, women had to travel outside to the pump to get water. They would fill their pail, bring it back to the house, use the water, and repeat. They needed to do this for “cooking, dishwashing, bathing, laundry, and housecleaning.” [1] They had to do this multiple times a day, every day. Even in the winter they had to “crack ice and thaw pumps” [1] to retrieve the water.

Because water was so difficult to retrieve, women developed many conservation techniques for its use. “Baths [could] be forgone, clothing changed less frequently, and dishes cleaned with fewer rinses.” [1] As running water in houses became more prevalent, more washing became the norm. This made food cleaner and healthier, as well as people.

Public plumbing evolved from having personal wells to “hiring tank wagons to haul water around town, filling private barrels.” [1] This then eventually led to digging “hilltop reservoirs or mounted supply tanks”[1] to use gravity as an advantage. Although all of these systems were in place, there was still a lack of fixtures inside houses. Women still carried “liquid refuse outside – dirty dishwater, cooking slops, and the contents of chamber pots” outside to dump. Not only was this difficult and disgusting, it also lead to disease because they were dumped feet from their houses.

Washroom for Middle Class, c.1927 [1]
It was not until 1897 that Sears offered sinks, washbasins, an

d urinals for use in private houses [1]. Although the rich had already had indoor plumbing, and the poor wouldn’t have it till 1900, a spur of the middle class began to invest in these products.

Washroom for the Rich, c.1920 [1]
Indoor plumbing continued to be something that the poor were without until well into the 20th century.  Like always, there were big differences between the facilities of the rich and the poor, but by the ladder 1940’s most houses had indoor plumbing.



  1. Strausser, “Never Done” Chapter 5 ‘Fetch a Pail of Water’
  2. https://mbrdfamilymemories.wordpress.com/


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