Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness

Paperback | April 30, 1999

bySuellen Hoy

not yet rated|write a review
Americans in the early 19th century were, as one foreign traveller bluntly put it, "filthy, bordering on the beastly"--perfectly at home in dirty, bug-infested, malodorous surroundings. Many a home swarmed with flies, barnyard animals, dust, and dirt; clothes were seldom washed; men hardlyever shaved or bathed. Yet gradually all this changed, and today, Americans are known worldwide for their obsession with cleanliness--for their sophisticated plumbing, daily bathing, shiny hair and teeth, and spotless clothes. In Chasing Dirt, Suellen Hoy provides a colorful history of thisremarkable transformation from "dreadfully dirty" to "cleaner than clean," ranging from the pre-Civil War era to the 1950s, when American's obsession with cleanliness reached its peak. Hoy offers here a fascinating narrative, filled with vivid portraits of the men and especially the women who helped America come clean. She examines the work of early promoters of cleanliness, such as Catharine Beecher and Sylvester Graham; and describes how the Civil War marked a turning point inour attitudes toward cleanliness, discussing the work of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, headed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and revealing how the efforts of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War inspired American women--such as Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton, and Louisa May Alcott--to volunteer as nursesduring the war. We also read of the postwar efforts of George E. Waring, Jr., a sanitary engineer who constructed sewer systems around the nation and who, as head of New York City's street-cleaning department, transformed the city from the nation's dirtiest to the nation's cleanest in three years.Hoy details the efforts to convince African-Americans and immigrants of the importance of cleanliness, examining the efforts of Booker T. Washington (who preached the "gospel of the toothbrush"), Jane Addams at Hull House, and Lillian Wald at the Henry Street Settlement House. Indeed, we see howcleanliness gradually shifted from a way to prevent disease to a way to assimilate, to become American. And as the book enters the modern era, we learn how advertising for soaps, mouth washes, toothpastes, and deodorants in mass-circulation magazines showed working men and women how to cleansethemselves and become part of the increasingly sweatless, odorless, and successful middle class. Shower for success! By illuminating the historical roots of America's shift from "dreadfully dirty" to "squeaky clean," Chasing Dirt adds a new dimension to our understanding of our national culture. And along the way, it provides colorful and often amusing social history as well as insight into what makes Americansthe way we are today.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$38.50

Ships within 1-3 weeks
Ships free on orders over $25

From the Publisher

Americans in the early 19th century were, as one foreign traveller bluntly put it, "filthy, bordering on the beastly"--perfectly at home in dirty, bug-infested, malodorous surroundings. Many a home swarmed with flies, barnyard animals, dust, and dirt; clothes were seldom washed; men hardlyever shaved or bathed. Yet gradually all this ...

Suellen Hoy teaches American History at the University of Notre Dame. She is the co-author of From Dublin to New Orleans: The Journey of Nora and Alice.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 7.99 × 5.31 × 0.55 inPublished:April 30, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195111281

ISBN - 13:9780195111286

Look for similar items by category:

Customer Reviews of Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness

Reviews

Extra Content

Editorial Reviews

"Sprightly and informative account of American cleanliness....Hoy's account of the American pursuit of cleanliness skirts the tangled psychology and sociology of dirty and clean....She has a genuinely upbeat story to tell. The pursuit of cleanliness brought us hot water and the stall shower,benefits of civilization few Americans would care to relinquish."--The New Republic