'The ladies ought to have at least

three nights in the week':

women and Victorian Turkish baths

1: Introduction   2: The first Victorian Turkish baths
3: Women and the first Turkish baths  
5: Entrance charges & attendants' wages   6: Attitudes to privacy, nudity, & exercise

7: The Turkish bath and women's health


4. Availability of the baths to women

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Women's areas were generally smaller, or else they were the same as the men's second class baths, as in Cookridge Street, Leeds.19 These plans of Nevill's Northumberland Avenue baths show that the difference could be considerable.

             
  Floor plans of Nevill's Northumberland Avenue premises  

Floor plans of Nevill's Northumberland Avenue premises

  Floor plans of Nevill's Northumberland Avenue premises  
  First floor   Ground floor   Basement  

        
Nevill's Northumberland Avenue Turkish baths (1884-1948)

'They…comprise both ladies' and gentlemen's baths, though, as at the old Pompeian Balneæ, the former set are ungallantly cramped into a very small space.'

Robert Owen Allsop, 1889   
                

And it seems typically Victorian that the Keighley Board of Health decided to build separate first and second class baths—for men and women to use on different day—instead of one bath for men, and a second for women, both of which could be used every day.20

In the Turkish baths open to the general public, women almost invariably seem to be at a disadvantage compared with men. Where facilities were shared, only one, Richardshaw Lane in Leeds, allowed women equal access.

Of the fifty establishments for which occasional figures are available, over half limited women to the equivalent of one day per week, while the remainder divided roughly equally between one-and-a-half days, and two.

 

       
Shared Usage
       

 
 

Baths

Female/Male
half-days/wk

Female/Male
 hrs/day

2

1:11

27

2:10

8

3:9

10

4:8

1

6:6

1

2:8

2

4:8

 
 

         
Times were available for 51 baths. The table is arranged so as to give a general impression only; too much should not be deduced from it.
         

 

In 1858, a letter to the editor of a local paper about the Leeds Road establishment in Bradford read:

I know it is not orthodox for ladies to be newspaper correspondents. This however is a subject in which our sex has equal interest with the gentlemen…The ladies ought to have at least three nights in the week. On the two nights of the week the rooms are inconveniently crowded, and even sometimes during the afternoons.21

Such complaints were not–and still are not–unusual.

       
'Bath time battle of the sexes'

       
Cooling room at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1928

       
Newcastle-upon-Tyne women have spent a year campaigning for equal access times which have always favoured the men (3 days to 2) since the baths opened in 1928. 

The Journal 5 June 1993          

              

Women were told their days were not sufficiently patronised. One company chairman, apologising for the provision of just one day per week, said they had found,

wherever they had enquired that the ladies had not taken advantage of those baths, and, however much they might desire to be gallant to them, they wanted to see their funds first.22

James Forder Nevill put it more bluntly, saying that they tried to open a ladies bath in Paddington but 'Paddington women won't take Turkish baths.'23

Cardiff Ladies Turkish Baths

Undoubtedly, Josephine Butler's supporter, Dr Baxter Langley, was closer to the mark when he argued that,

Turkish Baths at present exclude women by their high prices, and in any public arrangements the female sex should be specially catered for.24

But providing publicly funded Turkish baths was of doubtful legality at that time, and none was built in London till after Victoria's reign.25

                   

 

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1: Introduction   2: The first Victorian Turkish baths
3: Women and the first Turkish baths  
5: Entrance charges & attendants' wages   6: Attitudes to privacy, nudity, & exercise

7: The Turkish bath and women's health