The Unique Hygiene Habits of Our Founding Fathers
The Unique Hygiene Habits of Our Founding Fathers

The Unique Hygiene Habits of Our Founding Fathers

Larry Holzwarth - November 15, 2020

The Unique Hygiene Habits of Our Founding Fathers
John Adams and Benjamin Franklin debated many weighty issues, including the hazards of night air. Wikimedia

22. Some considered the night air injurious to health

Several of the Founders, including Dr. Rush and other medical professionals of the day, considered the night air to be particularly dangerous while sleeping. The practice of sleeping in closely shut rooms, with windows closed, was widely accepted as requisite for health. Bed curtains existed for the same purpose, protecting the inhabitant from the dangers of night air. Doctors believed the air carried diseases which entered the body in repose through inhalation. Benjamin Franklin, the proponent of air baths, disagreed. His view led to a memorable confrontation with John Adams during a journey they undertook together in 1776. They were forced by circumstances one night to share both a room and its bed.

Adams wanted the window closed, in accordance with accepted medical practice. Franklin wanted it open. Franklin explained that it was his personal belief that people developed colds not from exposure to the night air, but from air in closed rooms contaminated by other people. Adams conceded, but later wrote Franklin, “began a harangue upon air and cold and respiration and perspiration”. Franklin’s talking put Adams to sleep. In the morning the two Founding Fathers, polar opposites in nearly all things, continued their journey, with neither the worse for wear from their exposure to the perils of night air. When Adams later traveled to France, he asked the captain of the ship in which he sailed to ensure the air vents to his sleeping quarters were opened whenever possible.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“Papers of Thomas Jefferson”. Julian P. Boyd, ed. 1950

“Alexander Hamilton”. Ron Chernow. 2005

“John Adams”. David McCullough. 2001

“Inside the Hunt for Artifacts Buried Under Philly’s Oldest Properties”. Louis Greenstein, Philadelphia Magazine. February 13, 2019

“Colonial Fashion Trends: What the Founding Fathers Wore”. Article, Constitution Facts. Online

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“Travelling Razor Case”. Exhibit and Article, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

“Traveling the Roads of Early America with Jefferson”. Mark Boonshoft, New York Public Library. August 12, 2015. Online

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“Disease in the Revolutionary War”. Article, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

“‘Rush’: The Other Founding Father from Philadelphia Named Benjamin”. Melissa Block, NPR. September 2, 2018

“Laundries: Largest Buildings in the 18th Century Backyard”. Michael Olmert, Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Autumn, 2009

“A History of Dental Troubles”. Article, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

“TOBACCO”. Susan DeFord, The Washington Post. March 14, 1997

“The Complete Vermin Killer (1777 edition)”. Online at Openlibrary.org. 1777

“Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America”. Kathleen M. Brown. 2011

“When John Adams Slept with Benjamin Franklin”. Article, New England Historical Society. 2020. Online

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