Boston: June 25, 1866.
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Bifolium, 4 pp. 8vo. When Health & Morals Clash. Old folds, near fine.
A letter from Fireside Poet Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes to the owner of a newly opened bathhouse in Boston, complaining that men parade around on the roof while exposing themselves to innocent bystanders: "Naked men... get on to the roof and walk about. They stand on the beams over the middle bath, stark naked, every attribute of male humanity on gratuitous exhibition to a community of both sexes and all ages."
As public bathhouses were being introduced into city living official documents in Boston reported out their value and popularity. The Boston City Report for 1866 noted, “The opening of the baths was greeted with unexpected favor by the public, and popular as the Committee deemed they would become, they were not expectant of such a degree of approbation as was manifested in their use. For the first month or so, it was as much as the several Superintendents – appointed by each Committeeman, respectively, for the bath-house under his charge – could do to receive and dispose of the bathers with sufficient rapidity in the immediate vicinity; the anxious throngs, in some cases seriously impeding the public travel while awaiting their turn to bathe.” [p. 9, City Document No. 102].
Author and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes saw things from a somewhat different “view,” however, as is clear from this irate letter addressed to the owner of the new bath house in West Boston. The letter in full reads:
My dear Sir,
I trouble you unwillingly for you have done what you could so far and I know are anxious to remove all
causes of complaint. But here is the fact.
The most shameless exposure of adult persons is a matter of daily occurrence at the West Boston bath.
Naked men stand...on the outside of the screen which hides the platform from which the bathers go outside. They climb up the blinds on the south sides. They get on to the roof and walk about. They stand on the beams over the middle bath, stark naked, every attribute of male humanity on gratuitous exhibition to a community of both sexes and all ages.
Three men were indecently exposing themselves yesterday morning, outside the platformscreen. I went directly to the bath but the police officer was not there—gone to breakfast, I believe.
Similar exhibitions are made constantly for the benefit especially of the young women attached to the Eye Infirmary, who have been in the habit ofenjoying the Western view, which is the one attraction ofall our neighborhood.
What do I propose?
1. Printed notices, plenty of them, large, brief, preemptory—that all persons doing any of these things—climbing on the outside—showing themselves in any way so as to be seen (except swimming in the water) from these houses, etc., shall be forbidden from the bath, or perhaps prosecuted for indecent exposure.
2. Catch one or two of them and carry out the threat.
3. If nothing else will do have a dozen good long strips of board made ready with sharp wrought nails sticking and have them placed so as to put a stop to these outrages in public decency.
I am speaking for others as well as myself and it is necessary that I should speak very plainly. The plan of public bathinghouses is admirable, and nobody values it more than I do, but I must tell you that in my opinion they must be ruled with a rod of iron, and that unless sternly and vigorously administered they will be recognized as public nuisances to entire neighborhoods.
I think that all the difficulties can be met by a little energetic action.
Yours very truly,
O. W. Holmes.