Wilder Wednesday – Toilet Talk

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wilder Wednesday posts usually begin with a quote. That wasn’t possible this time, as Laura never mentioned toilets, outhouses, or anything at all about answering “nature’s call” on the prairie. Reading the books as a young child, I knew about outhouses – but I still couldn’t figure out how the Ingalls would have relieved themselves during those winter storms when they couldn’t go even a few steps from the house for days at a time. I was grossed out when I learned about chamber pots; I’m still truly thankful for indoor plumbing!

Even though Laura didn’t mention this subject in her books, it was the focus of her efforts for some time in her adulthood. I was fascinated to learn that Laura was the driving force in bringing public ladies’ restrooms to her area of the Ozarks.

Laura always believed that a husband and wife were partners, meant to work together. This was especially true for farmers, as she looked on the farm as a joint venture. She once wrote, “As soon as we can manage our household to give us the time, I think we should step out into this wider field, taking our place beside our husbands in the larger business of the farm. Co-operation, mutual help and understanding are the things that will make farm life what it should be.”*

Laura took her own advice, and was often with Almanzo when he went to the local trading centers. Whether he was selling apples or buying cows, Laura was involved in the process. But she was one of relatively few women who were. And she realized that, among the various reason that was so, was one she could do something about.

There were no ladies’ facilities at the trading centers. Since farmers were often there for hours, waiting their turn to negotiate the sale of their crop or conduct whatever business they had, this was a problem for women. Having had to use the restrooms in too many public places where men use the same one as women, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for women wearing layers of long dresses and petticoats to keep out of the, um, residue, in whatever facilities there may have been. It would be enough to keep me away – and Laura evidently thought it kept away other women, too; women who should be there, engaged in the farm business, with their husbands. So, when she became Vice President of the 16th District of the Missouri Home Development Association, she worked to establish several public ladies’ restrooms in various trading centers in the area.**


Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren, editors, Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing

*Laura Ingalls Wilder, “As a Farm Woman Thinks,” Missouri Ruralist, March 15, 1922
**John Case, “Let’s Visit Mrs. Wilder,” Missouri Ruralist, February 7, 1918;
Editor’s Note on Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Poultry Raising as an Occupation for Women,” The American Food Journal, September 13, 1910

14 responses to this post.

  1. Very interesting. While reading The Long Winter, I realized that the toilet situation was one that was not addressed at all. If they had an outhouse, it must have been “out” in the weather, and would have been horribly cold. They might have even gotten “stuck” to the holes! And where were they getting toilet paper? There were enough catalogs in the whole town to take care of that many people for 7 months! Corn cobs? Ugh!


  2. Posted by lauri5567 on June 25, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    One of the reasons I wouldn’t have made it as a pioneer. I like my indoor plumbing!


    • Definitely! I could do without almost anything else…almost, I say, but not that.


      • Posted by trina on September 9, 2019 at 2:08 am

        I’ve always been bewildered how people don’t seem to mind cleaning up the waste of animals on the farm, but shudder about managing human waste, i.e. chamber pots.
        I cringe at both and never could have been at peace living on the prairie in the 19th century or on a farm, for that matter.


  3. Posted by Connie in Colorado on June 26, 2015 at 1:20 am

    I always admired LIW for this little but very important effort in her “farm days.” She used her voice for good and service.

    When I’m giving pioneer programs at a real log cabin here in Longmont, that’s always a question that comes up! We have a chamber pot (“thunder mug!”) in the cabin and lilacs strategically planted behind the back breezeway (or “dog trot” in Texas). They get the idea!


  4. As a child I noticed she left out any talk of personal hygiene other than baths. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned what a chamber pot was and the use…


  5. Posted by trina on September 9, 2019 at 2:21 am

    The newspaper image above with the caption referencing the importance of separate facilities for men and women makes me wonder why this is still an issue, today. There seems to be a trend where in some establishments, public restrooms are no longer gender specific. Take Starbucks for instance. In most locations, I’ve noticed the restrooms are unisex. While Target does have restrooms for “Men” and “Women”, they permit anyone to use either, which I find shocking, and frankly, disgusting.
    I’ve once or twice found myself walking into the Mens restroom, letting out a scream, and hastily retreating, only to be left with the memory of a filthy sight and odor. Can we agree that, in general, men are not nearly as particular about keeping restrooms clean, and not…missing the mark?
    This unisex policy for public restrooms which may be a result of adopting a platform of being politically correct, has affected my own lifestyle changes in that, now, when I know I’m going to be in the public arena and shopping stores, I refrain from drinking water before and during my trip, so as to avoid needing to use a public restroom. It’s ridiculous and a bit extreme, but, as a woman, I’m appalled to use a public restroom shared with men.


    • It has certainly been my experience that restrooms men use are generally a lot messier. Maybe we mothers can do a better job of teaching our boys to aim, and then to clean up after themselves!


  6. Posted by Melinda on November 30, 2019 at 12:51 am

    Most janitors will actually tell you that women’s restrooms, surpisingly to some, are actually messier. My sister’s husband was quite surprised when he worked a few years at Macy’s how far from the “opposite” things were of what one might expect. I have seen it for myself as well. As for anyone freaking out over unisex bathrooms, Clutch those pearls elsewhere. “Letting out a scream?” Oh PLEASE! Grow up.


  7. […] tragedy, and so so much hardship. They didn’t have ANY toilet paper 🧻, ever. (Interesting laura Ingalls Wilder toilet-related sidebar.) Set […]


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