Artifact of the Week: Hygiene in Hillary House

By Shelby Clifford, AHS Co-op Student

Since the construction of Hillary House in 1862, there has been a long journey into the modern world of cleanliness and the practices that ensued from it. The first house in Aurora to have an indoor bathroom, Hillary House was created with a old chain pull toilet, an above ground bathtub and a bucket- typed portable bathtub, in which the homeowners would cleanse themselves. Seeing as hygiene practices before the mid to late 1800’s were less frequent, the construction of the bathroom was a fairly new concept. Washing hands became an official mean of reducing disease around 1850, when doctors found that using a chlorine based hand wash lowered the amount of sickness in patients that in turn created a more broad search for hygiene research unlike the centuries before.

The toilet that was installed the house is a chain pull toilet, in which the end result is to pull a long chain to commence the flushing after its use. It obviously was a very efficient practice as the majority of bathrooms were still situated outside at the time, and it was certainly more comfortable to stay inside. In Hillary House, the inground bathtub was copper and installed in 1888, and before this, a bucket-like tub was used to clean the majority of the families living there during its time.

When a bath was to be drawn, the order of participation went from the eldest to the youngest in the house. Seeing as bathing was not a prominent routine, and water was hard to lull for the large amount of people in the house, water was to be used, or “recycled” so to speak- for everyone bathing. As you can imagine, the bathwater would get dirtier and dirtier every time someone used it, and when the babies went last, they were often subjected to the harsh bacteria being harboured in the water from everyone before them. Hence the famous term, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater…” because young children often caught sicknesses from the unclean conditions, and in some horrible cases, babies would not survive. As history and modern facilities came more into normality, water flowed through pipes and was run for baths and the used bathwater was put to rest (For the better). To this day at Hillary House, although not put to use, water still flows from the pipes in perfect condition. It is a prime example of modern practices in the bathroom and is remembered as Aurora’s first.