My mother came across an interesting old book in among many other antiquated volumes in their home called Gunn’s New Family Physician written in 1864.   She said the book has some marvelous remedies and many suggestions and exercises for better health.  Some remedies, however, are better than others.
In the section on ” Shower Bath,” Gunn says, “When convenient, the shower bath is an admirable thing–to be followed, of course, with proper friction and exercise. The morning is probably the best time to take it. In order to take this bath properly, it is necessary to have a box or apparatus constructed expressly for the purpose.

Most of my readers, probably, will know how such an apparatus should be made. It is sufficient to say here that it consists, essentially, of an arrangement by which the water is allowed to fall upon the body in a series of small streams at the same time, and the greater the surface upon which they fall, the better.

Usually these baths are so constructed that the streams fall perpendicularly, and strike upon the head and shoulders only. ..Where there are no better means at hand, an assistant may stand upon a chair, or in some elevated position, and pour the water upon the bather from a common watering-pot, which will answer as a very good substitute for a more perfect machine.

The benefit of the shower bath consists mainly in the general shock, and consequent reaction, which it produces upon the nervous system, and the organs of the skin…In order to derive the full benefits of the bath, the water must be cold…”

I shudder at the thought of a cold shower.  But Gunn goes on to “applaud the benefits of “The Full Bath,” which consists of immersing the whole body in water. For this purpose, a tub, vat, or bathing trough, is necessary, which should be large enough to take in the whole person, and be sufficiently roomy to admit of freedom of motion. Should the cold bath, after all proper efforts, be followed by paleness of the skin, dullness and inactivity of body and mind, with more or less chilliness, it is not likely to be useful, and should, for the time being, be abandoned.”

You think?

*Pic of the robustly healthy John Gunn and his book. Women in late 19th century bathing costumes


  1. Mary Ricksen // January 7, 2011 at 12:21 PM  

    I used to below to a spa years ago. I worked out and after would go into the steam room. Right after that was a set of step steps into a deep pool of water. Freezing water. You would run down and back up as fast as possible. It was just three feet wide. But it was a pleasant and invigorating shock and I kinda liked it. So cold baths are still used to get that nervous system jumping! Great post Beth!!!

  2. Judy // January 7, 2011 at 1:03 PM  

    Beth, my teeth were rattling by the time I finished the post. I hate to be cold and the idea of a cold bath and shower is just gruesome to me. Fun to see how something new then, like a shower, is such a part of our daily living in an improved form! Thanks for the post! Always good for some prospective...

  3. Mona Risk // January 7, 2011 at 2:22 PM  

    I hate cold water. When I was small my mother insisted that after a hot shower we should get a cold water sprinkle to prevent catching cold. She made us freeze!!!

  4. Beth Trissel // January 7, 2011 at 3:03 PM  

    Oooooh, all those cold water stories are chilling. Thanks guys.

  5. Mary Marvella // January 7, 2011 at 4:01 PM  

    Excellent post, Beth!

    Shiver! I also hate cold!

    Daddy always insisted we rinse our hair with cold water to take out residual shampoo or soap. Yes we sometimes used soap instead of shampoo.

    We also rinsed dishes in cold water after a hot rinse. Hot wash and rinse for killing germs and cold rinse for residual detergent.

  6. Scarlet Pumpernickel // January 7, 2011 at 4:49 PM  

    Great excerpt, what an interesting book. Isn't it amazing what one can find looking through old volumes. Now you will just have to have a character who uses this to build their very own shower. LOL

  7. Tamara LeBlanc // January 7, 2011 at 4:51 PM  

    Great post!!
    I love old photographs, and I'm glad you included them among the words of wisdom spouted by the 19th century doctor.
    I can't imagine taking a cold shower either...or a cold bath. Brrrrrr.
    Like Judy said, it's funny how we take for granted the ability to step into a stall, turn a faucet and, wala, a spray of water cleanses our skin, loosens tight muscles, and takes the chill away.
    What an invention.
    I sometimes wish I had lived in the eighteen hundreds...but I'd truly miss modern conveniences.
    thanks for the post.
    Have a great evening,

  8. Beth Trissel // January 7, 2011 at 5:35 PM  

    I'd like to visit the 19th century and come back home again for all of my amenities. I'm so spoiled. I guess we all are.

  9. Nightingale // January 7, 2011 at 5:44 PM  

    I'd like to go with you to the nineteenth century Beth, meet Oscar Wilde then return. Let's be sure it's a round trip ticket!

  10. Toni V.S. // January 7, 2011 at 6:13 PM  

    This was a great blog!Nice to compare what they do now to what they did then? Sometimes, I wonder if we've progressed or digressed, though.

  11. Beth Trissel // January 7, 2011 at 6:16 PM  

    Some of both, Toni, I think. OK, will do, Linda.

  12. Barbara Monajem // January 7, 2011 at 6:45 PM  

    Brrr. I'm going to go wrap myself up in blankets and cuddle with a hot water bottle.

    Fun post, Beth.

  13. Mary Marvella // January 7, 2011 at 8:07 PM  

    I'm with Barbara. At least we don't have to heat bricks and stones to warm our beds.

  14. Beth Trissel // January 7, 2011 at 8:26 PM  

    I'd rather heat stones for my bed than take a cold bath. I'm all snuggled up while I write this.

  15. Pamela Varnado // January 8, 2011 at 12:40 AM  

    Beth, my body responds better to cold weather. Heat and humidy suffocate me to the point that I'm prone to asthma attacks, which is bad because I live in HOT Atlanta. Luckily, my husband likes our bedroom icy also. Strange but true: we run our ceiling fan and a free-standing fan all year long while we sleep.

  16. Dale Mayer // January 8, 2011 at 2:27 AM  

    I remember going into a sauna and then jumping into the river when we became overheated - the shock was almost heart attack jolting. The Nordic countries still practice this concept.

    For me, I've shifted to bubbled bath and HOT water.

  17. Joanne // January 9, 2011 at 10:14 AM  

    Another well written and informative post. Really interesting stuff. Yes, we are very spoiled today.