ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
SKETCH OF A PROPOSED PUBLIC BATHING HOUSE
July 17, 1873
It has been estimated that less than three percent of families in slum areas in Chicago had bathroom facilities before 1880. Thus those who did the meanest and dirtiest work had the fewest opportunities to clean themselves afterwards. This sketch of a proposed public bathing house to be located on the south end of Twenty-first Street accompanied a petition made by the residents of the neighborhood. The council was being requested to allow a Mr. William Shaw to erect this bathing house. As a consequence an enabling ordinance was passed and approved by the mayor. It provided that Shaw first had to obtain permission from the Illinois Central and the Michigan Central railroads. A further provision was that persons were not to be allowed to bathe in the immediate vicinity outside the bathing house. The ordinance was good for a renewable period of two years during which time the structure was to be removed at the end of bathing seasons.
The first absolutely free public bathhouse in Chicago opened in January of 1894. It was known as the Carter H. Harrison Bath House and was located at 192 Mather Street in the Nineteenth Ward. By 1906 the number of free public bathing facilities had risen to fourteen in an effort to increase the sanitary standard of the city.
Points to Consider
What kind of building is pictured in this sketch? Where was it located?
Why would this bathhouse have been open only in warm weather months? How often did average working people bathe in 1873?
Describe the probable inside appearance of this bathhouse?
Was bathing a patriotic experience?