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Bathing on a Steamship Including Photographs from 1906

Bathing on Shipboard By Bertha B. Smith
Published by Modern Sanitation

THOSE who go down to the sea in ships can, in these good modern days, go as far as they like, or rather, as far as their purse-strings will reach, in the matter of bathing. The ship owners and makers have certainly done their part. Every first-class ocean liner nowadays has as many bath rooms as a first-class hotel, and the best and most up-to-the-minute of them provide their first cabin passengers with all the comforts of home, and more, in this respect.

Photo01: Electric Light Bath On The Steamship Amerika

Photo01: Electric Light Bath On The Steamship Amerika

The acme of ablutionary luxury was reached by the builders of the "Amerika," the great floating palace put into commission last year by the Hamburg-American line. The gaping thousands that have crowded its decks on visiting days and oh-ed
and ah-ed at its café and its gymnasium, its nursery and its lift, and all the wonders of its city block of length and its skyscraper height, have won, tied as much at the bathing facilities as anything else.

Nor is there anything that marks it more definitely as the answer to the demands of the present hour. Bathing has become a fad. Not to bathe from one to three times a day—and, it would seem, alas, not to tell of it on every possible occasion—is not to be in fashion.

Photo02: Bathroom Of Imperial Suite On The Steamship Amerika

Photo02: Bathroom Of Imperial Suite On The Steamship Amerika

And one would as soon think of taking passage on a ship that did not serve meals as on one that (lid not provide facilities for a bath. The passenger that pays his $1,600 for the imperial suite on the "Amerika" could scarcely know, if only the boat would stand still, that he was not in his own limb at the Waldorf. or at his club, or in his own home.

The room, like everything on board ship, is compact. but the floor is tiled and the walls are wainscotted with onyx slabs. There is hot and cold water both for the tub and the stationary washstand, and the nickel finishings sparkle and shine under the electric light.

The other private baths on board the "Amerika." while somewhat less costly in their furnishings, afford equal comfort. and they number 28. In all the steamer has ho baths. An innovation on this ship is an electric light bath, a privilege accorded without charge to all first-class passengers.

Photo03: Swimming Tank On Pacific Liner

Photo03: Swimming Tank On Pacific Liner

While the big Atlantic liners have spoken the last word as to luxury in the matter of bathing facilities, the Pacific liners have gone further and added a recreation feature to their equipment.

Every big passenger steamer plying between the west coast ports and the Orient carries stowed away somewhere in its hold a huge canvas sewed in the shape of a tank. On fair days during the voyage this tank is brought to the main deck a n d lashed to the deck rails and heavy cross beams. It is then pumped full of sea water. and the passengers are free to don bathing suits at any time and have a plunge.

As the tank holds about four or five feet of water and covers almost the entire space of the main deck forward, it makes swimming possible, and the sport is freely indulged in, to the enjoyment not only of the swimmers themselves but also of the passengers who care to look on from the upper deck. When the voyage is too rough or the weather cold the tank is emptied, folded up and stowed away.

The evolution of the shipboard bath is easily traced. And in its tracing one becomes aware of how comparatively recent is the widespread popularity of the bath. Nor is it quite necessary to go all the way down the line of steamships from these floating palaces with their swimming tanks, onyx-trimmed baths and electric light cabinets to the little old-fashioned boats plying along the coast, which, like a country hotel, have but one bath for everybody. The whole story is told between the upper deck and the hold of one big steamer.

Photo04: Saturday Night Is The Time For A General Clean Up

Photo04: Saturday Night Is The Time For A General Clean Up

Those to whom the daily bath is as the daily bread pay for a private bath room. Those others who must consider ways and means, and who, for the week or two or three of an ocean voyage, can content themselves with a sponge bath in their own room or a bath in a common bath tub, find this accommodation provided with a cheaper stateroom on a first-class liner, or with the first cabin of a second-class liner.

And by the time you get to the steerage there is no bath at all and the people herded there are lucky when they can lurch to a common sink and get a chance to rinse off their faces and hands. While down farther, another deck or two, the same sink is provided for the men who come up all grimy and dripping with sweat from the stifling heat of the engine rooms.

Perhaps, after all, a sink is all that would be used by these stokers and firemen, who barely have strength to climb the ladder leading out of the fierce hot hole where they work, wash off the thickest of their sooty mask, being careful the while to avoid any breath of cool air, and then crawl into their bunks to rest till the hour of their shift comes round again.

Photo05: The Saturday Night Clean Up On A Lumber Schooner

Photo05: The Saturday Night Clean Up On A Lumber Schooner

Perhaps, too, disgusting as conditions in the steerage seem to a person of cleanly habits, the lack of decent bathing facilities is not a very great hardship to the average steerage passenger, who is of that class of European peasants that know no better use for the bath tub of his new tenement home than the storage of odds and ends of household rubbish.

Going on down the line of ocean craft, the very worst of the bathing facilities afforded on the big ocean steamers is better than the best provided on sailing vessels. Get any old-time sailor to spinning yarns and he will tell you of days when all the men had to depend upon, in the way of water, was what they could catch when it rained.

And when the voyage ran on into months with never a sight of land and rains were scarce, many a man has had his allowance of water cut down to a quart a day for all purposes—his slop. his drink and his bath. And it is a safe guess, since sailors are men. and hungry men at that, that the larger part of that quart of water, if not all of
it, went to regale the inside of him rather than to refresh the outside of him.

It was only when a man was found to he "crumby" that they would hustle him out to the fo'c'sle and scrub him down with a scrub brush and all the water they could spare.
It was always a great day on those long voyages when the clouds gathered above and opened up and let the rain down.

If the latitude was low enough. every man jack aboard stripped down to his last stitch and took a shower bath right from the sky. Meanwhile they plugged the scuppers and let the water collect on the deck and a general wash-day was declared. Trousers, blouses, socks and all that a sailor wears were scattered about the deck, and as the water backed up and covered them the men stamped them with theit feet or got down on their knees with soap and brushes and scrubbed the clothes sailor-fashion. Then they put them on again wet. or hung them on the rigging to dry, as the state of their wardrobe allowed.

And all the while the scuttle butt and every tub and cask aboard was set out to catch what fell from the roof of the fo'c'sle and the officers' quarters. to help eke out the water supply until the next rain fell.

Photo06: Sailors Taking A Swim When The Ship Is In Port

Photo06: Sailors Taking A Swim When The Ship Is In Port

It is not so very different now on board sailing vessels. The only difference is that for the most part the voyages do not cover so many clays or weeks, and enough water can be carried to last from port to port, with the rains to help out. Besides, the men who ship on sailing vessels are not men to whom a bath is the most vital thing in the world, and a cleaning-up once a week is enough au satisfy most of them.

Now and then some youngster who has run away from a home where he has heard that cleanliness and godliness are akin, and has had, perchance, a little too much of both of them, finds that sea-going men go a bit too far the other way and vents his spells of homesickness by stealing a little extra water from the scuttle butt—only it would be called "taking," not "stealing"—and sneaking off to an unfrequented side of the deck to rub out a shirt or a pair of socks a little more often than sailor law allows.

In port Saturday night is the time for a general clean-up. On every other night in the week a sailor's only thought is to get ashore when his work is (lone. and no sooner have the whistles of the port town ceased blowing for five o'clock than the procession of sailors is crossing the gangplank, scattering in all directions toward the various saloons that line every water front.

Sailor work is like clock work, and no man stops to finish what he may be doing, but quits with a crank half turned, a rope half hauled, or with a barrel, crate, a load of himber or whatever the cargo may be, swinging in midair from the jib. On Saturday night it is the same as any other, save that instead of breaking at once for his favorite saloons everybody goes to the forward deck just outside the fo'c'sle for the general clean-up.

Photo07: Sneaking Off To Rub Out A Shirt Or A Pair Of Socks

Photo07: Sneaking Off To Rub Out A Shirt Or A Pair Of Socks

Off come blouses and undershirts, and the men take turns hosing each other down, while those who don't want to wait for the hose lather their heads and stick them down into buckets, tubs or whatever sort of vessel is handy. Some get to work with scrubbing brush and washboard and get some clean clothes ready for Sunday. which is Jack Tar's day for courting.

It depends a great deal on the weather how many attend this Saturday seance on the forward deck. When it is cold, the attendance is much reduced. for there is a big hurry in the direction of barroom cheer, but when summer comes there is much splashing out by the fo'c'sle.

And, when the schooner is docked in a bay where the water is clean and inviting, many of the men strip to underdrawers and shins and go overboard for a swim in the sea. This is also a sailor's favorite method of tubbing when his ship is becalmed out in mid-ocean, always provided the weather is warm. In winter—well. in winter Jack Tar waits for wann weather.

Weekly: $1 a Year. Chicago, Saturday, October 20, 1906. Whole No. 723. Vol. XXXVII. No. 3

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The GG Archives is the work and passion of two people, Paul Gjenvick, a professional archivist, and Evelyne Gjenvick, a curator. Paul earned a Masters of Archival Studies - a terminal degree from Clayton State University in Georgia, where he studied under renowned archivist Richard Pearce-Moses. Our research into the RMS Laconia and SS Bergensfjord, the ships that brought two members of the Gjønvik family from Norway to the United States in the early 20th century, has helped us design our site for other genealogists. The extent of original materials at the GG Archives can be very beneficial when researching your family's migration from Europe.