records that between 1830 and 1860, epidemics of typhoid fever and
cholera claimed thousands of lives across America.
Between the epidemics, the third leading cause of death was amoebic
dysentery and as a result of these scourges the average life expectancy
in the United States was 47 years. Later research proved that most
of the epidemics could be blamed on improper waste disposal allowing
contaminated sewage into domestic water supplies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture finally recognized the problem
and made efforts to educate the public. In spite of years of work
and leaflets, the census showed that as late as 1920, over 25 percent
of all U.S. farms still relied on contaminated water supplies, most
poisoned by improperly placed outdoor toilets. This contamination
plus the house-fly population spread disease quickly as few realized
Little headway was made to correct the problem until the Great Depression
of 1930 to 1935. By 1933, 15 million people were unemployed and living
at poverty level. Thousands roamed the highways and railroads of America
pleading for work and food. There seemed to be no answer until the
administration changed and the plight was addressed.
the many depression recovery programs conceived by President Franklin
D. Roosevelt in 1933, was the Works Progress Administration or WPA.
The combined results of these programs eventually brought national
recovery and triggered prosperity for many years.
The scope and worth of the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps,
CCC, are legendary. They worked at huge projects throughout the United
States leaving a heritage we still use today. However, one small aspect
of the programs that will always remain foremost the minds of rural
folks was the building of sanitary WPA toilets on private land throughout
Records show that more than 35,000 men and women were trained in carpentry
to construct toilets, septic tanks and lay clay drainage lines for
Those in need merely went to the WPA office, signed a request, paid
$5 for materials. If you were broke, you signed another form and the
government would pay the money needed. It was not a loan to be repaid.
Between 1933 and 1945, federally trained carpenters built 2,309,239
sanitary privies in America. Not only did the public benefit from
improved hygiene and comfort, the carpenters earned weekly paychecks
for their labor.
The greatest benefit of all, sanitary, fly-proof outhouses placed
on improved locations halted the killer epidemics.
outhouse nearly obscured by bloodweed in the ghost town of Perry near
courtesy George Lester
as late as 2002, a survey showed that more than 670,000 homes in the
U.S. still had no indoor plumbing. This problem will probably extend
into the future.
Today, we elders both brag about how tough it was in our childhood
days and complain about the cold, dark path, the smell and having
to use the Monkey Ward catalog in the old outhouses.
We tell outhouse jokes and complain about the high cost of today's
government programs. But, I'm here to tell you the outhouse building
program of the WPA was one government program that was worth every
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"Column
- May 8, 2006
by Bob Bowman ("All Things Historical")
The resurgence of outhouses as historical landmarks in East Texas.
Outhouses by Bob Bowman ("All Things Historical")
The only existing East Texas outhouse ever built by the old Work Projects