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George Washington's Privy

If you were to visit Mount Vernon, and if you were at all curious about how wealthy people in 18th-century America lived, you would of course want to see the toilet. Well, that was in a building outside. Or, to be more precise, those were in an outhouse.

On a recent visit to George Washington’s home of Mount Vernon, I was struck by one particular building – the “necessary,” AKA privy, outbuilding, outhouse, or latrine.

It was actually a replica of Washington’s original necessary house, an educated attempt to recreate the structure where America’s #1 went #2.

What struck me about it was that there were three holes.

No stalls. No partitions. Just three open holes, right next to each other.

You can imagine that privacy would be dispensed with in a large family with only one outhouse, but you have to wonder whether the father of our country was in the habit of pooping with friends. Howard Dorre of Plodding Through the Presidents goes to great lengths to explore the answer to that question. -via Strange Company


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It wasn't until more recently the stigma of privacy-while-pooping existed, with the advent of modern toilets and sewage systems. Before indoor plumbing, outhouses were a fact of life, and being an edifice over a pit, had to be detached for obvious reasons from the living areas. My great grandparents owned a remote mountain property, and before there was a septic system, was a functioning outhouse. Still standing and not utilized, the first feature is a smooth two hole top board. What I remember most from childhood is walking the forty-ought yards out to it in freezing morning air, and often one of the two spots would be occupied. It would be a time to strike up a conversation or share the newspaper. The smell...horrific. Still as outhouses go, it was plenty roomy, in an L shape, entry door, entry area to remove and hang coats, then the station itself. The station looked out into the entry area, where the was wood grating for light and air. That the inside was dark, it worked well that no one could see in, but occupants could see out. There's been talk of demolishing the structure, yet I'm against it. It illustrates a different time, fulfilling an essential need.
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These multi-seaters were for the many workers on the plantations. Rather than constructing lots of outhouses, it's faster and quicker to just construct one with multiple holes for the field-workers. The owner of the house wouldn't go out there and mingle with the riff-raff or slaves. Instead, he would use a chamberpot.
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