Pooping Routines of Our Early Presidents
02 Nov, 2020
George Washington Pooped WIth Friends (We Think)
Let’s start with the curious case of George Washington and his outhouse at Mount Vernon. More specifically, how our first president’s historic home had an outhouse with one room, one bench and three holes for pooping, with zero walls between. Yes, George Washington probably almost definitely did not go #2 solo.
A website called Plodding Through The Presidents did some heavy lifting on this research, citing a University of Maryland professor of the privy, Michael Olmert. Included in the findings: a Swedish painting from the 18th century depicts tandem pooping by a couple. So, shared latrine time was very much a thing. Says our poop professor: “I’m as certain as I can be that George Washington would have used multi-holed privies. Everyone of his class had estates with such privies. He was no different.
“What’s clear is that notions of privacy were far different from ours. For instance, a great many homes in the 18th century had no hall that led to separate bedrooms, which meant that family members and guests had to walk through adjoining bedrooms to get to their own bed. Similarly, travelers staying in taverns, inns, and ordinaries regularly had people sharing beds. Which means they also shared chamberpots! It was a different world.”
Thomas Jefferson And The French Flush
While Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France in the 1780s, he enjoyed a very modern (for the time) facility: flush toilets. He was so taken by the ability to poop inside that he installed three small rooms for indoor toilets at Monticello, his Virginia estate. At the time, most American homes had outhouses for pooping, meaning a hundred-pace walk outside in all manner of weather to relieve yourself. Indoor facilities were an uncommon luxury.
Jefferson’s special pooping closets were on multiple floors of his house, installed with a chimney-esque air shaft beneath. But it’s unlikely that the poop fell multiple floors, like a port-a-potty on stilts. It’s more likely that the toilets fed a chamber pot, which would have been emptied by slaves. It’s unlikely that Jefferson enjoyed an American flush toilet in his lifetime, though. Most Americans didn’t enjoy indoor plumbing for more than a century later.
Millard Filmore And More
Our 13th president did not leave a vast legacy. For context, he’s most famous for becoming president after the death of Zackary Taylor. So, not a lot to write home about. But we can give President Filmore full props for one thing: he brought the flush toilet to the White House.
Plumbing first hit the presidential home under John Quincy Adams (1820s), but the first running water was only used to water the president’s plants. It took Andrew Jackson to bring running water indoors at the White House, and he added a bathing room to the mansion in 1833. Twenty years later in 1853, flush toilets finally made a splash at the White House, under the direction of Millard Filmore. Yes, we can thank a not-so-famous president for helping revolutionize pooping at the White House.
Abraham Lincoln’s Logs
Seven score and 15 years ago, Honest Abe chopped his last “Lincoln Log” at Ford’s Theatre, moments before his assassination. Or so says Americana folklore. Pexcho’s American Dime Museum in Georgia proudly displays Lincoln’s very last poop, supposedly recovered from the presidential chamber pot at Ford’s Theatre. The crusty log stands along with a handwritten note of authentication, and a typewritten rebuttal claiming that it’s a “fecal forger.”
Lincoln may not have minded this eccentric invasion of his poop privacy. He famously had a great sense of humor, and one of his favorite jokes had a poop punchline. Here it is, one of Lincoln’s favorite poop jokes: Ethan Allen, a Revolutionary War hero, travelled to Britain just after the war. As Abe told it, the Brits routinely teased Allen and the Americans, and especially the reputation of George Washington. During Allen’s visit, the Brits even hung a large picture of George Washington in the outhouse, where Allen couldn’t miss the dig. When Allen said nothing about the picture, the Brits asked what Allen thought about it. Ethan Allen famously answered that he thought it was a very appropriate place for the portrait. When asked why, he said “There is Nothing that Will Make an Englishman Shite So quick as the Sight of Genl Washington.”
A Formal Fecal Conclusion
Heading into 2021, we’ll have no shortage of presidential news. As we look ahead, it’s a good time to remember one place of sure presidential progress: toilet technology.
Our Founding Fathers mostly used chamber pots, whether the pots had seats or were squatters. Outhouses were common among their peers, and commonly their perspectives on privy privacy were quite different than hours. It’s likely that George Washington and his kin pooped tandem. Jefferson was so taken by French flush toilets that he moved the outhouse inside. But it wasn’t until the presidency of Millard Filmore that flush toilets made it to the White House. And notorious in all things, Abraham Lincoln left a pooping legacy that rivals his presidential peers.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the day we get a confirmed bidet in America’s first home.