Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
Houses and Water

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Emergence of the Modern Kitchen, Bathroom and Laundry Room

Pipes for running water and sewer hookups for indoor plumbing (and later gas and electric fittings as well as telephones) revolutionized both domestic life and its connection to the outside world in the second half of the nineteenth century. The timing and method of connections was tempered by geography and class. The wealthiest Chicagoans introduced these modern improvements into their houses during the nineteenth century, while many of Chicago’s working families did not enjoy these improvements until the twentieth century. During the 1930s, the federal government identified housing as substandard if it did not include indoor plumbing. This opened the door to leveling several neighborhoods of worker housing that was deemed substandard.

The introduction of modern kitchens, bathrooms, and laundries transformed work within households, especially for women. Tasks related to cooking, cleaning and laundry changed dramatically. However, the amount of time that women spent on housecleaning did not necessarily decline, as standards for cleanliness and cooking rose as labor-saving devices were introduced.

Ayer Residence, 2 East Banks Street

The architectural firm of Burnham & Root designed this large house on the Near North Side in 1885. The house included a modern bathroom, with fixtures still familiar today.

See also: Near North Side; Architecture; Gold Coast

Report on Under-Sidewalk toilets, 1936

In The Tenements of Chicago, 1908-1935 (1936), Edith Abbott compiled a table showing "tenement dwellers without conveniences." Abbott counted the number of toilets of specific types (in different districts), including: back yard, under sidewalk, on or under a porch, in a basement or hall, or in the apartment itself. Toilets in the backyard, under sidewalk, on porch, or in the basement were often added to the housing well after construction, while toilets in a hall or in the apartment themselves were generally installed when the building was constructed.

See also: Housing Types; Hull House; Near West Side

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