Tuesday 31 July 2012

The Ladies Sanitary Association

In which Ladies demanded water closet accommodation:


A letter having been addressed by the Secretary of the Ladies Sanitary Assocation to the Vestry respecting the present absence of water closet accommodation for women, the matter was referred jointly to the Works and Sanitary Committees, and was several times under discussion. Mr. Voss was requested to write to the Secretary, and enquire what had already been done in the matter by other Vestries. The following reply was received:-

london, December 3rd, 1878

DEAR SIR, - In reply to yours of the 28th November, I write to mention that the Committee have appealed to all the Metropolitan Vestries and District Boards, and that there is reason to be satisfied that the matter referred to will be seriously considered by many Vestries and Boards, particularly by St. George's Hanover square, St. George's Southwark, St. Saviour's Southwark, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Paddington, St. Pancras, Kensington, Camberwell, St. James's, Westminster, St. Luke's, &c.
    I do not know of any public free provision having yet been made for women, and have reason to believe none such exists in London. The difficulty of obtaining sites is one that troubles some Vestries, and has led the Commitee to suggest the utilization of existing buildigns over which the Vestry may have some control, viz., at park lodges, cemeteries, recreation grounds, model lodgings, hospitals, laundries, baths, dispensaries, workhouses, School Board schools, tram and omnibus stations, churches and chapels, or the opening of small shops where articles are or could be sold in which women are interested.
    The best plan, of course, would be special erections placed in a well-frequented part of the parish, not in a mews or middle of the roadway, or close to a public house. If an attendant - and the Committee think one is justified at each station - were supplied and a lavatory added, it would be quite possible to make a charge for accommodation; but a free W.C. should always exist at a paying station. The Committee simply suggest a charge where a lavatory is supplied, because it is known that supervision, &c., would be appreciated by many. The increasing number of women (working) of all classes who travel about London daily renders such provision of serious moment.
    The Committee earnestly hope that the Vestry of Bethnal Green may find it possible to help a class who naturally find it difficult to ask for public consideration in this matter, while experiencing grievous suffering. Whichever Vestry shall first give proof of humane consideration will have earned the gratitude of all women, and set an example that cannot fail to be beneficial to health and social morality.
    I shall be glad to reply to any inquiry you may desire to make,
           And remain, dear sir, sincerely yours,
                     ROSE ADAMS, Secretary.

As to the necessity for such accommodation there can be no doubt, as at present confectioners shops and the waiting rooms of railway station are the only available places at which women from home, on business or pleasure, can answer the calls of nature; while, on the other hand, urinals for men are pretty freely distributed all over London. This selfish inequality calls for immediate readjustment for the misery and illness entailed upon women by it is enormous.
    From a special report upon the subject by Dr. Stevenson, the Medical Officer of Health for Paddington, I make the following extract:-

Upon the medical aspect of the question it is not necessary to enlarge. Of this aggregate of moving feminine humanity referred to, of all ages, and belonging to every grade of society, it is sufficient to say that every unit of it has, in common with men, the same physical necessities. For the maintenance of life it is not more necessary to take food and drink than subsequently to get rid of what the system cannot appropriate. The one organic necessity involves the other: they are correlated. It is a mistake to suppose that there are such differences in the female organization, that these primal requirements of physical being can be disregarded by women with less suffering than by men. There are periods and conditions peculiar to the sex when latrine accommodation would be specially convenient; and as at such times the requirements of nature are apt to be more urgent and more frequent, women would be spared much unnecessary mental and physical distress, were the accommodation provided.
    It is true that by the exercise of the will we can control for a time the muscular openings which serve an inlets and outlets to the body, and that we thus have the power of resisting, to a considerable extent, the calls of nature when inconvenient. This power is not possessed by infants or young children, or by the aged or the infirm. But such resistance, which circumstances too frequently impose upon women, if habitually practised, is sure to be followed by injurious results. Apoplexy is an everyday consequences of constipation. Much of the cerebral and cardiac disturbance of the present day - and it is alleged to be on the increase - is probably due to the same cause. It is certain that almost every form of disease, whether local or constitutional, is likely to be aggravated by constipation; and that, whether it be the cause or effect of other diseaes, it is sure to occur if the evacuation of the bowels, from choice or from necessity, be persistently delayed. It should also be borne in mind that diseases of a grave character, induced by constipation, are apt to continue their course independent and unchecked, long after the cause may have ceased. The same remarks apply, in a great measure, to retention of urine, which is the other condition most likely to arise from the want of the provision in question. Again, persons of both sexes and of all ages suffer at times from diarrhoea and irritable bladder, and must be greatly inconvenienced by the want of the required accommodation.
    There is abundant testimony from medical men and others, available if necessary, to prove that this is no imaginary want - the creation of sentimentalism, but that it is really a great and growing one, which calls for the prompt and careful consideration of those who busines it is to make provision for it, and at the same time deserves their beneficent efforts, seeing that it is experienced by those whose natural reserve upon such a subject, and whose positions in life, for the most part, prevent them from making themselves heard. Modesty suggests that nurses should have the opportunity of privately performing their duties to their little charges. Ladies who are interested in the welfare of those below them in the social scale are ready to declare that poor women have often told them, with tears in their eyes, of the agony and shame they have endured in circumstances which it is not necessary to particularise. Sir James McGarel Hogg has recently expressed himself as quite alive to the want, which he considered to be a real and a serious one. "There is no doubt," the Lancet  has remarked, "that the establishment of retiring rooms for ladies will prove a great boon." To obtain this much-needed accommodation, some ladies go to restaurants and order refreshments which they do not require, and others to milliners and confectioners' shops. It may be safely assumed that the money thus spent, even when it is only a few pence, cannot always be conveniently spared.

The Vestry have undoubtedly power to make this provision, as will be seen from the following extract from 18th and 19th Victoria (1855) sec. 88: - "It shall be lawful for every Vestry and District Board to provide and maintain urinals, water closets, privies and like conveniences, in situations which they deem such accommodation to be required, and to supply the same with water, and to defray the expenses thereof; and any damage occasioned to any person by the erection thereof, and the expense of keeping the same in good order, as expenses of sewerage, are to be defrayed under this Act."
    In Paris, and in other cities on the continent, water closets are provided for both sexes, and a charge of three-halfpence is made to each person using them. Most of these are, I imagine, private speculations, and I have no doubt that they pay a reasonable profit. Whether the Vestry would be empowered to make a similar charge I am not prepared to say, but certainly each latrine should be placed under the charge of a responsible attendant, who should be required to exercise considerable vigilance in the matter of cleanliness, as otherwise contagious diseases would undoubtedly be communicated.
    I have on one or two occasions visited latrines on the continent where no charge was made and where there was no attendant. In each case the condition of the place was most disgusting.
    The matter deserves futher consideration, and I trust that we shall at an early date see in this Parish conveniences of the kind mentioned.

Report on the Sanitary Condition and Vital Statistics of the Parish of Saint Matthew, Bethnal Green, during the year 1878

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