"Cleanly in their persons and cleanly in their dwellings": an archaeological investigation of health, hygiene, and sanitation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New England
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In this dissertation, I investigate how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New England regarded and negotiated the fundamental personal issues of health, hygiene, and sanitation. I employ environmental archaeological and material data, in particular parasite remains, from six New England privy sites: three eighteenth-century sites in Newport, Rhode Island, and three nineteenth-century sites in Boston and New Hampshire. Two eighteenth-century sites belonged to households in the middling stratum of society: one was a poor, lower-class residence. Two nineteenth-century sites were working class- a tenement and a brothel, both in Boston; the third was the Chase House, an upper-class domicile in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The archaeological and documentary evidence reveal daily choices and their effects. All three eighteenth-century households used chamber pots; the middle-class privies also contained high-quality ceramics. Documents indicate that these families functioned as small-scale merchants. Their prosperity notwithstanding, all three sites revealed parasites, although the amount was considerably less in the middle-class remains than from the poorer household. The nineteenth-century privies reflect that era's inhabitants' increased attention to sanitation and medical treatments; all privies contained more ewers, basins, and medicine bottles. Parasites remained a problem for the working class: both the tenement and brothel privies show moderate levels of parasitic infection. No such evidence was found in the Chase House privy. The material evidence of chamber pots, wash basins, and medicine bottles, places alongside the indications of infection, reveal peoples' active concerns with issues of hygiene and health, and demonstrated also that attention to these issues increased from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. Higher levels of household wealth may be linked to lower levels of infection in both eras, probably because of better access to medicines and clean water. The personal involvement revealed by the remains is also reflected in the era's changing social attitudes. The impoverished came to be seen as agents of their own misery whose only hope was to adopt the cleanliness of the upper classes. Poorer people without ready access to better sanitation were regarded as people choosing to live in squalor and, as such, unworthy and beyond help.