Bathing and wellness culture at the beginning of the 20th century

Although beach-bathing – including sun- and air-bathing – was thought to have special healing and innovating power at the beginning of the previous century, beach-bathing served for relaxing primarily (just like today) and for surviving hot summer days. The wellness services of the period were ‘steam-chamber, electro bath, hydraulic massage’, pine-needle bath and relaxing in air-bath houses with breezy walls, built for air bathing.

94_2884_1_e.jpgA doctor could also advice air-bathing treatments consisting of walking in light clothes, besides using an air-bathing tent. In addition, pine-needle bath was also part of the wellness culture then. It did not mean bathing in pine needles, despite its special name, but in water enriched with pine-needle infusion.

On several places … pine needle baths came into fashion … these baths have the same effect as hot thermal waters have, but at neutral temperature as well. Thus, we are able to achieve the effect of hot thermal waters by lukewarm water with pine-needle infusion in case of weak persons who cannot bear hot thermal waters.’ – Dr. István Boleman.

98_5598_1_e_2c.jpgBeach bathing is an excellent occasion to spend time with our friends freely, to deepen our relations with our family members, to play water polo or beach volleyball, to play board games. However, it can be ideal for meeting new people, building new relationships. In this case, you should be careful, because not everybody looks with favour on this kind of actions. It was so in 1935 as well:

‘The depravity of the summer beach bathing life has a great part in sinking morals; because no matter how we whitewash the case, these beach baths are often equal to occasions of pandering in public. Raffish men and fallen women became opinion leaders, whose libertine example is imitated by men and women of ‘respectable’ society in their naïve ignorance. In Belgium and Italy, beach baths are constantly and strictly monitored by the police, while in our country, authorities are permissive indefinitely in this field. And the press caricatures the moralist official measures.’ – Békés, 1935.

2001_750_1_e.jpgIt often happens that other people bombard us with tons of advice and worries concerning bathing and sunbathing. Some of them try to armour us with some advice that turn out to have based on mistakes. The situation used to be the same back then. Naturally, the advice is not bad in many cases, just the truth content of the scientific explanation behind it is doubtful:

‘The bank of Tisza is used for air- and sun-bathing. Because the mud of Maros forming a deposit there, due to its radioactive effect – especially when heated by the sun – is very healthy.’ – Délmagyarország, 1912.

Sometimes, certain arguments sound very well:

The vitalizing air and vapour of soil developed from plants by sun warmth make a refreshing air-bath for children.’ – Hufeland.

Some advice that sound well in theory do not prove to be sensible in practice:

During the air-bath, rub your skin with clean hands or a brush (and pace up and down in the meantime).’ – Arnold Loránd (bath physician from Karlsbad), 1910.

There are some advice that you should not understand literally:

Air-bath is very useful and important. You should be in the open-air as much as possible in as less clothes as possible.’

2009_320_1_e_2.jpgSome arguments should be listened to with reservations; the following one is a good example:

Nakedness in the bath is not shameful at all. It is not like the other kind. The other occasional bareness. There is the beach bath for example, in Hungarian: ‘strand’. There, even ladies show more of themselves than it is proper.’ – Békésmegyei közlöny, 1928.

Similarly to nakedness or not enough clothes, overdressing can also be a problem, because if you breach the unspoken rules of bathing, you can easily arouse repugnance and disapproval in others:

Suddenly, there is some action on the sand. Whispering, astonishment and agitation. Some say ‘The idea!’ A woman – just as she walked in, completely dressed-up, in a flirty cool summer dress – is walking around the beach. ‘This is the limit’ – says a lying woman in bathing-costume. ‘Walking around here, dressed up completely like this! What impertinence!’ – Nyírvidék, 1926.

94_800_3_e.jpgIf you do not get information about weather in time, you might be surprised like the bathers in September 1928:

The first cool day, the first early morning frost killed the beach bath. The bathing-costume-comfort, the bareness of paradise became unpleasant at once, and even the most enthusiastic weather-hardened ancient bathers stood quivering with cold in the faint autumn light of the weakening sun. With this, bathing lost its reason for existing on 15 September.’ – Békésmegyei közlöny, 1928.

People, who tried bathing in France, even came off worse, because it was freezing there at the same time. The first indention of the next article reports on it (in the same page):

Paris, 25 September (Wollf). The morning papers state related to the weather forecast that it is already freezing in the country. It is minus 8 degrees in Auvergne, minus 4 in the Vosges, and minus 3 in the Loire Valley.’ – Békésmegyei közlöny, 1928.

2001_670_1_e.jpgNaturally, different thermal baths, spas, swimming pools, saunas offer opportunities to people who long for relaxing or bathing in water and hot steam. Although the wellness services of the period were different from those of today significantly, they were suitable for recreation perfectly. Just like the services of Wörishofen Baths in 1911:

   ‘Half baths, sitting- and foot-baths, adjustable-temperature showers, electric light baths, steam cabins and different wrappings were parts of the treatment.’ ‘But the main instruction for everybody is to spend the whole day in the open-air.’The forest of the bathing resort is full of hammocks; this is where bathers spend the majority of the day.’ … ‘The daily recreation is completed with barefooted treading in grass and in water, whose effectiveness is intensified by pouring water on the legs where they are not merged in the water.’ – Felsőbányai Hírlap, 1911.

Károly Erdélyi

Translated by Zita Aknai





More thematic virtual exhibitions