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Leeann Judkins


“If you gotta go – you gotta go!”  Rain – snow – sleet – or hail!!!  It’s always open.  Days – nights – and weekends!


And Depends instant briefs (aka diapers) won’t help.  Just be thankful and grateful you didn’t live during the time when your grandparents lived. 


I’m referring to the history of DeKalb County’s outdoor toilets.  And I’m referring to the county historian, the late Thomas G. Webb, who wrote in his popular “History of DeKalb County” that when “World War II ended, the daily life of most people in the county was quite different from the daily life of most DeKalb Countians in 1995 (when his book was written).  “To begin with, the vast majority of DeKalb County homes had no electricity in 1945,” Webb continued, “In fact, outside of the four incorporated towns, there was hardly a home with electricity.  DeKalb County’s four incorporated towns (each with an individual government) are Smithville, Alexandria, Liberty, and Dowelltown.  Now you know.


During Webb’s growing years several years ago, he wrote, “Most homes in the county had no indoor toilet.  Most families did have indoor toilets.  However, in 1950, about 14 percent of DeKalb County homes had indoor toilets while about 15 percent of DeKalb County homes had no toilets of any kind – indoor or outdoor.”


“Before the availability of mass-produced toilet paper during the mid-1800’s, humans had to resort to using what was free and available, even if it didn’t provide the most effective or comfortable results.” Options included the Sears and Roebuck catalog, rocks, leaves, newspapers (later in 18th century), grass, moss, animal fur, corn cobs, coconut husks, sticks, sand, and sea shells.”  OUCH!  In DeKalb County, the two most popular wipes were the catalog and the corncobs.  In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania corncobs and newspapers were used as the favorite toilet papers.


Digressing to “the monthly’s,” in which women grinned and bared ministration, the following teaches us about periods in monthly cultures.  Please note than their “pads” during the earlier times were cloth rags.  Tampons had not been invented.  The current disposable pads grew from a Benjamin Franklin invention around 1880. Currently, a box of tampons costs between $5.00 and $8.00.

·     In Ancient Rome, people believed menstruating

 women could ward off natural disasters and farm pests.

·     Women held their pads up with suspenders in the American West in the 1870’s.

·     In the 1800’s, it was normal for German women to free-bleed onto their puffy Victorian dresses.

·      A century earlier in France, the scent of a woman on her period was considered a turn-on since it demonstrated her fertility.  I didn’t know this.

·     During Biblical times, woman on their periods would gather in red tents, tell stories, and engage in drunken debauchery.  “I had no idea getting my period would be so much fun!” one lady exclaimed.  She must have been totally inebriated.

·     In the early 1900’s, my mom used her large underwear to catch Jim’s dog, Rain’s, monthly-in-heat residue.  Poor German Shepherd – Hilarious Sal!  Nope – it didn’t work.

·     Menstrual pads were first invented in the 10th century in Ancient Greece.

·     Before the disposable pad was invented, women used rags, cotton, sheep’s wool, knitted pads, rabbit fur, and grass.


To regress, defines an Outhouse as a small structure, separate from a main building, which covers a toilet.  This is either a “pit latrine” or a “bucket toilet.”   However, other “dry” toilets may be encountered.  Additionally, another “outdoor toilet” was a “Pail closet” where waste was collected into large cans positioned under the toilet seat, to be collected by contractors. Brisbane relied on “dunny carts” until the 1950’s because the population was so dispersed, it was difficult to install sewage.  Tar, creosote, and disinfectant kept the smell down.  The definition of a “dunny cart” is “Any other place or fixture used for urination and defecation; a latrine, a lavatory, or a toilet…or a passageway connecting the outhouse to the main house.”



Outhouses are typically built on one level, wrote The Boston Exchange Coffee Club (1809-1818) was equipped with a four-story outhouse with windows on each floor.  Increasingly, “outhouse” is used for a structure outside the main living property that is more permanent to build than a shed.

“Dunny” or “Dunny Can” are Australian for a toilet, particularly an outhouse.  Also, a “gong farmer” definition is “to describe someone who dug out and removed human excrement from privies and cesspits.  Lest we forget: “What goes in must come out!”


Historically, “the first outhouse was thought to have been built some 500 years ago,” wrote “The earliest outhouses were located 50 to 100 yards away from the home and were small huts that had little more than a hole in the floor.  Inside the floor was a small tin or bucket that caught the waste and it had to be emptied daily by one lucky winner!  People preferred to use their outhouses or “necessities” rather than their newly installed flush-indoor toilets.


There are still old outhouses that exist today that reflect the trends of the times.  Were you aware that outhouses were popular in both the rural countryside and the major metropolitan cities?  These dumping grounds were constructed of wood and easy to move in relocation.  They also were painted for durability.


The interior hole in an outhouse was between three and six feet for one person – more holes – more family members.  The presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt brought improvements to American outhouses.  Supported by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the outhouse initiative was called the “Works Project Administration,” which replaced dilapidated outhouses in the rural United States.  The group completed two million outhouses during its run.  The First Lady’s commitment to the cause led to the outhouses earning the nickname “The Eleanor.”


There are still tens of thousands of outhouses in America, not to mention the outhouses that exist in other countries.  While society has moved on to more upscale portable toilets and public restrooms, there is something nostalgic about finding an outhouse out in the country.



Various sizes and styles of outdoor toilets are available for purchase at Walmart for $13 - $140 dollars.  Or, to build an average outhouse today typically ranges from $1,200 to $3,000 with some projects exceeding to $10,000.  Indoor toilets, two-pieced, average around $100 - $300 with the most expensive costing around $3,000. 


Recently, during a family discussion, we were inquisitive about “slop jars,” which are defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “A container used for urinating or defecating when it is not possible or convenient to use a bathroom or toilet.”  Many of these jars were used years ago in homes without indoor toilets.