“Triangulation” Stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Life in America in 1815 was dirty, smelly, laborious, and uncomfortable. Only the most fastidious bathed as often as once a week. People gave themselves sponge baths in large washtubs as water had to be carried from a spring or well, bucket by bucket and then heated in a kettle on a wood stove. Some bathed but once a year, and as late as 1832,an unnamed country doctor complained that 4 out of 5 of his patients did not bathe from one year to the next. Their homemade soap was harsh, so people usually only rinsed off saving the soap for cleaning clothes which was only an occasional activity.

taking a bath

An outdoor privy was not something everyone had, indoor light was precious and scarce, families made their own candles from animal tallow, and they were smelly and smoky. Everybody slept in the same room near the single fireplace, several in each bed, and privacy for married couples was a luxury.



Towards the end of the Victorian age, Horace Fletcher, an American nutritionist know as “The Great Masticator”, began advocationg that people chew each bite of food until it became liquid. Presidents and generals took up “Fletcherizing” as did authors such as Henry James, Franz Kafka, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and hundreds of otherwise intelligent people.

Supper conversation presented a challenge. J.H. Kellogg, the inventor of corn flakes, and a follower, tried to jazz up mealtimes by hiring a quartette to sing “The Chewing Song”, an original Kellogg composition, while diners grimly toiled over their food.

It is probably a correct assumption that Fletcherites at table were not an attractive sight. It is said that Franz Kafka’s father hid behind a newspaper at dinnertime to avoid watching the writer Fletcherize.

Most of our mothers cautioned us not to gulp our food. My Great Aunt tried to lead me to chew each bite 27 times. I don’t know it that was “Fletcherizing”, but it did prevent gulping.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

11 thoughts on “THE WAY IT WAS”

  1. This post started out somewhat grim … and then I burst out laughing, and could hardly stop ! What the devil do you mean, Katy, by presenting us with a virtual dichotomy of posting ?! [grin]


  2. Old Horace looks pretty grim himself doesn’t he? Thinking of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made me think of Sherlock Holmes, and wondering what he looked like “Fletcherizing”. Oh, the interesting things which take up the idle mind.


  3. Franz Kafka has serious eating problems. Some today might say he was anorexic at times. His famous short story “The Hunger Artist” alludes to his problems. Surely his father played a prominent role in Franz’s development. Try reading that story…

    As far as the great “masticator”, ( I could never teach that vocabulary word to freshmen and junior boys without eliciting sideways glances. The funniest thing about mastication is that the boys thought I did not understand their inside joke; that is, until I said something along the lines of…” OK, I know this word sounds like masturbation but it doesn’t mean the same thing.”)

    Now THAT was funny.

    We had to buy Dinah, our lab, a special bowl that looks like a jello mold to keep her from gulping the one cup of kibble she receives twice a day. Her record is 12 seconds. NO
    fletcherizing for her…


  4. I don’t know if anyone in our family knew about Fletcherizing, but I’d say his influence lingered. I’m trying to remember how many times I was supposed to chew each mouthful. It wasn’t extraordinary. Ten times, maybe. I always thought it was silly. Who can enjoy their food if all their attention is on counting?

    What does tickle me is how much better something is when it’s freely chosen. When I used to go up to the cabin, the routine was exactly as you’ve described: fetch the water from the creek, heat it on the woodstove, take bath. Well, and that’s the way it was in Liberian, too — at least in some places. We had indoor showers in our houses, the village people bathed at the waterside, but some Peace Corps and missionaries, etc. had “bath fences”. Some were tin, some were vines. None offered much privacy!


  5. The “bath fences” sound like the ones we concocted while camping in the mountains. On the boat we heated water in a rubber bag in the sun most of the day, then put it in a large container which dumped it out over your head. I remember one place we camped with my parents off in the hinterlands away from all civilization. We sent the men to shop before we drove up a winding rickety road. When we were setting up the camp we asked the men where the toilet paper was. It seems they each bought beer but no T.P.

    I truly loved your post on Liberia. So timely and informative. It’s a part of the world we seldom think of. I have reread it a couple of times as the commentary is also so interesting.

    Speaking of parts of the world we don’t think of, did you read Tandi’s post on the big fires in Yellowknife? Very interesting.


    1. I did read her post. It wasn’t just interesting, it was distressing. I happened to talk to a friend tonight who lives in western New York state. The smoke from the NW territory fires has been affecting them. Amazing.


      1. Hard to believe isn’t it? And after the fires, if rainfall ever comes, there are always landslides. Driving home from Southern Calif yesterday any of the lakes we passed on the pass out of Santa Barbara are dry and the old erosion all the way gave way to strange otherworldly shapes. We are at the mercy of Nature always.

        I just read comments on Cheri’s blog about the Annex. If we all run over there and help muck it out the work will go faster! It will be a nice place for her to work.


  6. Another wonderful sculpture, Kayti. The triangle was about all I could manage at school! 1815 – I had to stop and think how old you were. 😀 Your comments column is always a joy to read, too.


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