Public Bath Houses
Life Span: 1893-~1930
Architect: Bruce Watson (South Side)
Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1893
There is one thing, and a very important thing it is, that the people of Chicago. noted for their liberality in all things that affect the progress of the city and tend to the comfort of its residents, have almost entirely neglected, and that is free public baths. It is partly due the apathy of the municipal authorities and partly to the lack of interest displayed by the public-spirited citizens, that the poor of this great city ae compelled to go unwashed and uncleaned at a time when the water of the lake is at a comfortable temperature and could furnish unlimited facilities for every person to keep himself in a healthful condition so far as cleanliness is concerned.
There is another thing that the city authorities must be held partly accountable for, and that is the awful harvest of lives reaped by old Michigan every year in the person of the aquatic small boy. The isolated newspaper accounts of the deaths by drowning at this time pf the year, never seem to strike any one as being a bit unusual or peculiar. But if an account of these were kept the total would certainly cause considerable surprises and create comment on the lax condition of affairs. The police bulletins at this time of year are always full of lost boys varying from 5 to 18 years in age. In many cases all traces of them are lost and no one will ever know what has become of them until Lake Michigan gives up the dead. Then, too, the number of unidentified bodies found along the beach and floating in the waters is large. They find rest in a convenient morgue for a day or two, a brief and formal inquest is held, and their bodies are consigned to potter’s field, while the parents and friends have been making a futile search for the missing ones. It will probably astonish many when the statement is made that 500 people, mostly young boys, find watery graves while in swimming in Chicago every year. Yet that is the estimate given by people whose business gives them authority to speak understandingly of the question. Not one-third, and at the most not over one-half, of this number are chronicled in the daily papers. The number of deaths this year from drowning been a little below average, yet the numbers thus far has nearly reached the hundred mark.
A few figure in this connection may help to bear out the statement just made. Chicago has a lake frontage of twenty-five miles. It has between 75,000 and 100,000 boys who have reached that age when they take to water just so easily and naturally as ducks. These boys line the beach of the lake from one city limit to the other. Many of them cannot swim, and it is to this that many of the deaths are due. Any pleasant day one can see the the more unfrequented parts of the beach swarming with these water-loving youths like shoals of fish in a shallow sea. Hundreds of these dive and swim about while one of two of the number have gone down in a deep hole unable to swim, or have taken the cramps and drowned without being able to call for assistance. Sometimes the bodies are recovered and sometimes not.
Another fact, and one that almost exceeds belief, is that several people make considerable sums of money every year searching for lost bodies. They hover around swimming places like vultures and as soon a boy is drowned they secure his name and address if possible, and undertake for a consideration to recover the body for the parents or friends. There is no escape from them.The police will if notified make a desultory attempt to do something which generally ends in failure. Thus it is an ill wind that blows nobody good, for it supplies these people with a means for a livelihood and creates a harvest for the undertakers.
Several years ago this great loss of life began to impress the police authorities and schemes of various kinds have been tried to lessen the mortality. People were forbidden to bathe in the lake except within certain limits. Arrests by the scores were made, but although fines were imposed the situation did not seem to improve. Then another plan was tried. Officers were detailed to look after the bathers. It was two years ago that Inspector Schaack inaugurated this custom on the North Side. An officer was placed at the foot of Chestnut street, and bathing was only permitted within a certain limit. This proved quite satisfactory, as only one life was lost at this place all last year. Officer Germanson of the East Chicago Avenue Station was placed in charge, and being an old sailor took great care of his protégés. He has again been placed there this year, and not a single drowning has occurred while he has been on duty, although several have been lost near by where there was no protection.
Lake View officers tried the old plan this year of stopping bathing in the lake at the foot of Belmont avenue and Diversey street by making wholesale arrests, and the Police Justices imposed light fines in each case. It has not stropped the bathing, but has rested hard on the poor people who have no place to bathe if not in the lake, and to whom a small fine is distressing. They have complained and sought relief, but none has been given, and their lot seems indeed a hard one with cool, fresh water so near and yet unable to take advantage of it to cleanse their bodies as often as is necessary at this time of the year. It is well known that good bathing in pure water in the summer wards off many contagious diseases and prevents a great deal of sickness in the unsanitary parts of the city.
It may be stated here that Officer Germanson is looked upon as a great hero by the urchins who inhabit the water about his post. He is very careful and methodical in his work and is obeyed and respected by his numerous wards. Last year a number of lives were saved by his prompt action and his work was so well done that he was returned to his old post again this year. Officer Germanson prides himself on the fact that no fatalities have ever occurred while he was on duty and he is careful not to have the record broken. A visit any day to the foot of Chestnut street, where the officer holds sway, will disclose an interesting site. Hundreds, and Saturdays and Sundays as high as 1,000, boys may be seen disporting themselves in the water and thoroughly enjoying themselves as only boys of that age can do.
The place for bathing is not a very good one, and coupled with a few annoying incidences attaching, such as having one’s clothing stolen, or tied into sailors’ and other intricate knots such as only the mischievous minds jof these street arabs can invent, would seem to deter a less determined person to trust himself in such a place, but it is a chance to wash off the soot and grime, and such a chance is not to be missed. Only those of 15 years of age or over are allowed to bathe here, and that brings to mind the existence of the only free public bath-house this big city of two million inhabitants affords, and that kept up by private charity. That is the bath-house established at the foot of Chicago avenue, where boys under 15 may enjoy bathing to its fullest extent and where such terrors as stolen clothes and disfigured garments are unknown. This house is a frame one, 20×40 feet, and around it flows a little stream of water six feet wide and thirty inches deep, the water being supplied by the Water works near by. It is not a very luxurious place to bathe, to be sure, but it answers the purpose, and considering the difficulties under which it is operated it does very well and supplies the needs of many a small boy who would otherwise be compelled to go unwashed.
This little place has a history connected with it. Years ago it stood out a considerable distance in the lake and was used as a boat-house. Thomas K. Foreman was the proprietor, and now occupies the position of superintendent. Then land gradually encroached upon the lake, until today the boat-house is quite a distance from the water. At that time Mr. Foreman inaugurated a plan of making money and turning the place into a bath-house. For a small sum a locker with a key could be had and towels were furnished. The affair was a financial success, and last year the Municipal Order League, of which Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson is President, bought the place and put Mr. Foreman in charge. Bathing is free, and as each little fellow hands his clothes over the counter a tag is hung on a string around his neck on which is his locker number. The clothes are each put in a separate locker, of which there are considerable over 100. And thus each one can feel secure that no emergency will happen which will compel him to go home wrapped up in a blanket.
This place was put into operation last August and was an instantaneous success. It was crowded all the time and is at this time a popular resort for the children of the poor as Coney Island is for those more favored with this world’s goods. Mr. Foreman was requested to keep a record of the attendance and the figures he produces are something astonishing., Before the close of the season last year the sanitary condition of nearly 40,000 boys was improved. This year the attendance has almost doubled. The number who find a refreshing bath in this little stream of water is now 1,000 a day, and Saturdays and Sundays the number reaches 1,500 and 2,000. The estimated attendance for the summer is not under 100,000. These figures seem pretty large, but they are from actual count. The popularity of this miniature summer resort is only bounded by the city limits. The boy from Seventeenth street can be seen splashing the water over the back of the fellow from California avenue with the greatest glee.
“Vaqddy” Foreman, as he is popularly dubbed, has established an enviable reputation among the street arabs of the city. He probably has more juvenile acquaintances than any other person in the city. Any day he walks down-town he is greeted on all sides. And one can hear the cheerful cry, “See, dere comes the ‘daddy’ of de bothouse,’ and “Daddy” enjoys the friendship as much as one of more pretensions.
Mr. Foreman suggested as a remedy for the present conditions of things that the city establish a bathing place of large proportions at the foot of Chicago avenue. There is a beautiful spot of water several acres in extent here and the ground belongs to the city. This spot could be boarded in at a light expense, probably a couple of thousand dollars. A bathing place so large would accommodate all who wished to bathe, with little danger and no offense to the public. The expense of running it would be light. Two men could do all the work necessary in attending to the lockers, and the Police Department would gladly furnish an officer to look after the bathers. Such a plan would not only furnish Chicago’s great army of the poor a chance to attend to their personal cleanliness, but would reduce the awful mortality commented upon in the first part of this article.
Chicago Tribune, January 10, 1894
The new Carter H. Harrison Bath-House, 192 Mather street, was opened informally yesterday. The actual opening to the public will take place today, when patrons so desiring may test the numerous appliances established there for their convenience. The building is a two-story and basement construction, with a front on Milwaukee pressed brick and brown-stone trimmings, and is in striking contrast to its surroundings. The basement contains the hot-water boilers and heating apparatus, the main floor the bath rooms, plunge tank, and office, and the upper story is given up to the use of Supt. Thomas K. Forman for living compartments.
The plunge bath is the only thing about the house which is not in complete readiness for the use of the public. The depth is not considered sufficient. This tank will be remedied before it is used. The tank measures 19×32 feet and will be concreted throughout when completed. The average depth will be something like four and a half feet to the overflow. The arrangements of the building are such as to render its cleaning matter of little difficulty. The entire floor of that portion of the building devoted to the baths can be cleaned by turning on the hose, as there is nothing to interrupt the flow of water though the room.
The shower bath compartments, of which there are seventeen, are partitioned to within eighteen inches of the floor and several feet of the ceiling with corrugated iron and form two lines either side of a broad passageway down the middle of the building. Each of these compartments is divided by a partition separating a small dressing closet from the room which contains the shower valve. In addition to these accommodations there has been provided an ordinary bath tub for persons not desiring the plunge or shower baths.
The steam heating appliances are of the most improved style. Several radiators are scattered throughout the place. The boiler, by means of which the hot water is supplied to all of the baths, is in the form of a horizontal cylinder twelve feet in length and having a diameter of four feet. Twelve hundred gallons can be heated almost to the boiling point in less than one hour. In connection with this tank and with a three-inch cold water pipe is a mixing chamber supplied with a thermometer by means of which the water can be conveyed for use at any desired temperature. Pipes extend from this chamber to all the baths.
The main floor in addition to the bath-room has a reception-room and office. A portrait of Carte H. Harrison, which adorns the north wall of the reception-room, was beautifully decorated yesterday with flowers for the opening. The building was tastefully trimmed in evergreens. Health Commissioner Reynolds introduced the speakers, six in number.
Mrs. H. W. Dunkinson, President of the institution, said among other things that Chicago was the first municipality to erect a public bath-house out of public funds. The city is greater this year than last, when it lacked what made the occasion of the present exercises. She complimented the Aldermen and Health Commissioner Reynolds.
Ald. Madden spoke felicitously of the enterprise and alluded to the untiring efforts of the women of the league to establish the bath-house. “I have been importuned,” said M. Madden, “both night and day for I don’t know how long to lend my aid toward the construction of public bath-houses. The persuasive manner in which these ladies came upon the Council at all times and hours is what led that body to finally conclude there was plenty of money in the treasury to be used for the purpose they desired.”
Dr. Gertrude Wellington, Miss Ada Sweet, Miss Jane Addams, Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson, and Mr. Harris of the Central Relief Association also made speeches.
Among those present were:
Mrs. H. A. Delano, Mrs. A. W. Holmes, Mr. and Mrs. E. Davis, Mrs. Reynolds, Mrs. Richards. Mr. and Mrs. James Moore, Mrs. Kloever, Miss Margaret Furniss, Miss Rebecca Rice, Mrs. C. L. Arnold, and Mrs. W. B. Heene.
Chicago Tribune, February 21, 1897
In the months of hot weather coming the miserable little urchins abounding in the neighborhood of Thirty-ninth street and Wentworth avenue, will not have to wade about in the small mud holes and shallow ponds of the vicinity to find out how water feels. They will be supplied free of charge with all of Lake Michigan that they wish. The new public bath-house fo the South Side, finished last week, will furnish from this, and is besides expected to make the formerly popular areas of clay colored liquid in the vacant lots look as lonesome as a snipe marsh in January.
The new baths were to have been ready for use last January, but additions to the original plans delayed the date of opening until it is now set for the first week in March. The work was all finished late last week, and the City Health Department will take charge in the course of the next day or two. When it has stocked the place with the necessary towels and supplies, and has appointed the attendants to look after the expected crowds, everything will be ready for the beginning of the fight against thye deadly clay hole.
This new public bath-house is the most pretentious at present in the United States. New York has a greater one on paper, but it is still far from actual materialization. The Carter Hall bath on the West Side—the first intrenchment thrown up by the foes of dirt—is far from approaching this latter effort of the city. The North Side will have the best of the competition when the new public bath near Lincoln Park is built, but just for now the South Side bath is the foremost in the country.
Beginning of the Enterprise.
The Free Bath and Sanitary League, with Dr. Gertrude Gail Wellington at its head, is the mother of the new bath-house. Aided by an ordinance passed in the Council last summer providing an appropriation of $12,000 for the erection of a public cleansing place on the South Side. There was great difficulty getting out plans which would fill the requirements of the case and would yet keep within the appropriation. City Architect Bruce Watson finally evolved a scheme of construction which seemed to be all right, declared the work on it, it could not be done under $17,000, and did not make any attempt to begin while in office. When Commissioner Downey took his place he at once let the contracts for the amount of the appropriation, and work commenced last September.
The new bath is situated in Wentworth avenue, between Thirty-eight and Thirty-ninth streets. This location was chosen by the physicians of the South Side in answer to the requests of the Sanitary League as to place where the institution was most needed. It is in the center of a populous neighborhood at a considerable distance of hundreds of middle-class and poor families. There is no doubt among those familiar with the locality but that the institution will “fill a long-felt want.”
In its present form the new bath=house will contain a capacity of dousing dirty human beings at the rate of ninety an hour, or 700 a day. It was originally intended to build two wings, one for the men and the other for the women, but the idea was found too expensive, and only one wing was put up. The front of the building containing the waiting-rooms and offices is made of the original size contemplated, however, and in the near future another wing is to be added.
Description of the Baths.
The wing now ready contains thirty-two compartments. Each of them consists a small dressing-room, about the size of those so popular at Manhattan Beach piers last summer, and an interior section with a large shower nozzle above it. Everything is made of the most durable and cleanly manner possible. The sides of the compartments are formed by huge slabs of slate, while the floor is of cement. Each person will be given a towel and ushered into one of the miniature rooms. There are a small seat and hooks for clothes in the outer part, and the shower nozzle inside is relied upon for the rest.
In the main part of the building are the waiting rooms and the office. The former is a large, comfortable apartment, provided with hardwood floors and benches. Seventy-five persons can find a place to wait their turn there. There are also large, roomy towel closets, and a room to be used in emergencies.
In the basement is a modern invention called a soup kitchen. It was only recently decided upon, and has caused the delay of the last two weeks in getting started. It contains two large kettles, each capable of holding thirty-five gallons of nourishment, and a coffee tank of thirty-eight gallons capacity. All three of these pieces of apparatus are heated with steam. The serving-room adjoining will take care of twenty-eight people at a time. It is expected to use this charitable institution only when necessary, and it is not yet decided whether it will be opened with the baths the 1st of the month.
Charitable Barber Shop.
There is another thing in the basement that will prove a surprise to the embryo football players who wander into it—a barber shop. It is something in the nature of an experiment, but it is thought likely to prove a most profitable one. There will be a couple of chairs and the newly washed people will be sent down there for decoration, probably free of charge. A youth entering the building dirty and unkept will be sent out again in shape to make a call on his best girl. The basement also contains the apparatus for warming the water for the baths and the heating arrangements for the building.
There has been a great deal of discussion as to the name which should be given to the new bath-house. Part of the city officials seem to favor one caption and part another. It was first suggested by the Sanitary League that the structure should bear the name of George B. Swift, but the Mayor declines. In return he suggested it to be named “The Gertrude Gail Washington Bath.” This Dr. Wellington refused to permit. It was also suggested that it should be named after Commissioner Ke and Commissioner Downey. Finally, as a compromise, “The Wentworth Bath” was mentioned. Within the last few days, however, Dr. Wellington has written to the Mayor asking the new building be named after Martin H. Madden, who was instrumental in procuring the appropriation for the purpose. This met the consent of the Executive head of the city and it is likely to be adopted.
The opening exercises will take place one of the first days in March. They will consist of a meeting at the new bath-house, with speeches. Dr. Wellington, Mayor Swift, Ald. Madden, and others interested in the work will deliver addresses. Then a few sample copies of the youth of the neighborhood will be turned loos inside the of the bath-room, and the South Side will proceed to grow much cleaner.
Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1897
Christens the New Bath-House.
Commissioner Downey yesterday named the new bath-house at Wentworth avenue and Thirty-ninth street the “Wentworth Avenue Free Baths.” Ald. Madden, Dr. Gertrude Gail Wellington, and Mayor Swift were unable to reach an agreement on the name. Commissioner Downey christened it himself. The new bath-house will be formally opened on March 2,. The building was erected by the city at an expense of $13,000. A soup kitchen for the poor is under consideration.
The Inter Ocean, May 16, 1897