'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   4: Availability of the baths to women
5: Entrance charges & attendants' wages  

7: The Turkish bath and women's health


6. Attitudes to privacy, nudity, and  exercise

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Not everyone thought that prices alone were responsible for there being fewer women bathers than men. ‘Penelope’ suggested in the Rochdale Times that,

there is something contrary to feminine instinct in the gregarious nature of a public Turkish bath. We like such things best at home, or at all events at some bathing establishment where we may be residing for a time…33

Penelope’s solution was the portable Turkish bath which was, she confirmed, easily assembled at home.

Century at home The delight of bathing BeClean !!!

         
Three general ads for portable baths
          

Connecting to the gas Woman readg in a cabinet bath


Connect to the gas
        

Multi-tasking

Robert Owen Allsop, the only architect to write extensively on the bath, understood that many British women, unlike their French counterparts at Aix-les-bains, preferred not to get undressed or take showers in communal areas.

Showering in public

‘In ladies’ baths,’ he wrote, ’more privacy must be observed. Each lady bather should have a private dressing and reposing room, even if only formed by dwarf wooden partitions,’34 and ‘private shampooing recesses’ should be formed with partitions of wood and ‘obscure glass.’35

Male and female cooling rooms at the Nottingham Hammam

Male and female cooling rooms at the Nottingham Hammam
Nottingham: men's cooling-room Nottingham: women's cooling-room

But many women probably did swim naked in the plunge pools, just as the men did. For although there are numerous references to ‘full loose robes,’36 or ‘a kind of toga…descending from the shoulders’,37 no other garments are ever mentioned, however detailed the description of the bathing process.

Maud and friends visit the Turkish bath: 1a

‘Expected a Turkish pasha to leap out at any moment and entice us into his harem…Felt very strange and defenceless wrapped in towels’

            
Maud and friends visit the Turkish bath: 1b

But in suggesting that ‘a plain, circular bath with steps around’ would be appropriate because in ‘ladies’ baths… the true dive does not pertain,’38 Allsop was clearly unaware of the active female membership of the burgeoning mid-1880s swimming clubs.39

The typical male view was still that women should never undertake physical exercise or exert themselves in any way. As the pseudonymous author of a booklet espousing the bath declared in 1858, ‘to ladies, to invalids, and men of business, whose sedentary occupations preclude the possibility of healthful exercise,’ the Turkish bath was ‘an inestimable boon.’40

Proprietors reinforced such attitudes, unimaginatively parroting each other. In 1895, Joseph Constantine reprinted advice written several years earlier ‘by a medical man’:

Ladies need these baths even more than gentlemen, and are more benefited by them, owing to their being more confined to the house and not getting so much exercise in the open air as men do.41

Incredibly, this was reprinted almost word for word nearly 80 years after it was first written, in a booklet published by Derby Council in 1964—the Swinging Sixties:

LADIES need these baths even more than gentlemen, and are more benefited by them, owing to their being usually more confined indoors, having less exercise, etc.42

                   

 

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1: Introduction   2: The first Victorian Turkish baths
3: Women and the first Turkish baths   4: Availability of the baths to women
5: Entrance charges & attendants' wages  

7: The Turkish bath and women's health