Growing Up Healthy in the 20th Century

 
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Potty chair
About 1920, 20th century
Wood
76.8 x 35.3 x 32.7 cm
Purchased by the McCord Museum
M22458
© McCord Museum
Description
Keywords:  Chair (31)
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Keys to History

In the first twenty-five years of the 20th century, hygiene took on renewed importance thanks to the efforts of doctors and various organizations that made it a top priority. Washrooms, toilets and, less frequently, bathtubs started to become standard equipment in workers' homes. Before amenities of this kind could be added, however, dwellings had to have running water and be connected to the municipal sewer system. Public health doctors had been pressuring the authorities since the late 1800s to improve sanitary conditions in poor neighbourhoods. Residential builders had to meet increasingly strict standards respecting ventilation, drinking water piping and the elimination of waste water.

  • What

    This potty chair was used to toilet train children at an early age, at a time when detergents, disinfectants and washing machines were not as effective as they are today. As the century progressed, these chairs would be replaced by simple potties made of china and later of coloured plastic.

  • Where

    In some parts of working-class neighbourhoods at the turn of the 20th century, the toilet was simply an outhouse in the backyard. In the first two decades of the century, however, towns and cities had sewer systems put in -- a development that gradually led to the elimination of outdoor latrines.

  • When

    The flush toilet was invented in 1596, but for it to be functional, the house had to be connected up to both a water supply system and a sewer system. In Montreal, those systems were installed mainly between 1890 and 1920.

  • Who

    Beginning in 1888, the Province of Quebec public health council brought in public health regulations and oversaw their application in municipalities throughout the province. The council was replaced by the provincial public health department in 1922.