Wellesley gets a history lesson in dealing with personal hygiene
ISSUES OF PERSONAL HYGIENE are a boon for marketers today promising solutions for every ill, from flaky scalp to athletic food and every other suspect spot in between.
While society hasn’t always made such a fuss about things bodily, those of us around today have the benefit of a rather rocky historical road to the current state of personal hygiene and associated conveniences. That journey was the topic of discussion Wednesday at presentation arranged by the Wellesley Township Heritage and Historical Society.
Kevin Thomas, a public programs specialist of the Waterloo Region Museum, gave a history lesson about personal hygiene.
“It’s just basically trying to start from the idea of everybody – regardless of where and when you have lived – have certain needs,” he said of the topic.
The presentation looked at the last 200 years, focusing on the many various attitudes the public has had towards personal hygiene to get to where we are now. This ranges from a luxury to an uncommon practice. It also examined the many different ways that the need has been addressed.
“Needs include food, shelter, heat, light, and clothing; also communication or entertainment, that sort of thing,” said Thomas. “So starting from that very basic point of view – saying ‘OK, we all have this basic need to go to
to the washroom or clean ourselves.’ Regardless of whether you were around in early Egyptian times, or ancient Greece or Rome, or whenever, you still have that need – but how you address those needs has changed through the years. That is what I find interesting. Especially with personal hygiene. It just builds success upon success, and it’s this long trajectory upwards, but it turns out, no it isn’t. It’s more of a rocky road to where we are now.”
Thomas noted how the attitudes towards hygiene changed based on the understanding of how diseases and germs spread. Also, there were plenty of measures taken to combat poor cleanliness habits, some of which were not always effective.
“As well as some technology to accommodate this shifting perspective,” said Thomas. “So soap, for example. They started using vegetable oil – palm oil, cottonseed, olive oil, various things like that. Then we view the attitude shift as marketers get their hands on stuff.”
Other measures included the invention of Lysol, which we know today as a cleaning agent. However, back in the 1920s, it was sold as a hygiene product. It has certainly been a long road of trial-and-error, making us lucky to be born in this day and age.
Wednesday’s presentation was the latest from the historical society. Past events have covered a variety of topics, such as “Find- ing Your Roots” and “Family Treasures.” The topics all relate to their mandate of preserving information and objects associated with the history of Wellesley Township, as well as better educating the public about the town they live in.
“We just had a public meeting a couple of weeks ago about the history of firefighting in Wellesley township,” said Nancy Maitland, WTHHP’s curator. “That was well-attended. We had another meeting maybe two years ago showing examples of our collection and how we can help people with their family history. So it focused on our family history resources that we have. We’re really trying to get people interested in history.”
Wellesley Township Heritage and Historical Society is a community organization that has been around since 2007.
“It’s part of our mandate to try to find ways to include all residents of Wellesley Township,” said Maitland. “We’d like them to be interested and see if they’d be interested in joining the historical society or donating any family documents or photos that they may have. That’s not the point of it, but we do want to educate people on what we’re doing and why, and maybe they’d like to get involved.”
For more information, visit www.wellesleyhistory.org.
Using images from the past, the Wellesley Township Heritage and Historical Society this week presented an educational insight into the development of personal hygiene as an issue, particularly in the hands of marketers.