The Evolution of Public Restrooms: A Story of Bathroom Partitions, Toilet Seats, and Segregation

Public restrooms are common facilities. In fact, they’re practically necessities for any establishment. However, the public restrooms we all know today were incredibly different in the past. This article discusses the rich and controversial history of the public restroom.

Public restrooms are such everyday facilities that it’s surprising to learn that there is so much controversy surrounding it. Structurally, public restrooms around the world are and have always been the same: there are sinks, toilets, mirrors, and bathroom partitions. In terms of inclusivity, however, public restrooms are ever-changing.

A Time of No Bathroom Partitions

The public restrooms today are commonly gender-segregated: there’s a men’s room for males and a ladies’ room for females. The toilets in these separate rooms are also further separated by toilet stalls. These barriers still allow people to privately do their business in a public restroom. It’s hard to imagine a time without these necessary barriers by Hamilton Darcey, but the first public restrooms in history were actually partition-less.

The first toilets were found in Mesopotamia and they’re wildly different from the ones we have today. They didn’t even have any flushing system! They were basically just holes in the ground, dedicated for human waste.

It wasn’t until a thousand years later that the ancient Greeks came up with a public restroom system that had some similarities to the public restrooms that we use today. They came up with public latrines that were pretty much just large rooms with walls lined with long benches that had holes connected to drainage systems. These holes were considered the “toilets” of that time. The best part about them? They were flushable!Bitcoin Trader Review

These public restrooms did not have any partitions separating toilets, so people using them could literally have conversations as they go on about their business. This wasn’t such a big deal in the past, especially in ancient Greece. It isn’t really that surprising, though, considering that there even existed public baths where everyone could just bathe alongside one another.

Gender Issues Surrounding Public Bathrooms

The ancient Romans had similar public restrooms to those of the ancient Greeks but only men were allowed to use them – the first ever controversy surrounding public restroom use.

Public restrooms for women didn’t pop up until the Victorian era. Prior to this time, women were kept on a “urinary leash”; always expected to stay close to home so that they could use the bathroom when they needed to.

The first ever recorded gender-segregated public restroom was a temporary set up in Paris in 1739. This set up consisted of two chamber boxes placed in two separate rooms: one for males and one for females. This was done for a Parisian ball to accommodate the needs of all the female attendees. As this was never heard of before, it was seen as a novelty and didn’t spark change until over a century later.

In 1877, because more and more women started to join the workforce, workplaces were finally required to provide their female workers with their own, separate bathrooms. Before this, women had to use the same bathrooms as their male-coworkers – something that was, of course, looked down upon as the Victorian society was all about modesty.  

Public Bathrooms and Racial Segregation

Racial segregation has got to be the biggest issue that public restrooms have had to face. In the 1800s, the “separate but equal” movement happened in the US. This meant that while African Americans were finally given the basic human rights they deserved, they were still not welcome to be fully integrated into the Caucasian society. African Americans were not allowed to use the same establishments and facilities as Caucasians did. This included restaurants, water fountains, and of course, public restrooms – this was a dark time in the history of public restrooms.

The separate restrooms were called “colored restrooms” and establishments, even in the largest of buildings, usually only had one and it was almost always located in inconvenient areas like basements.

Other races and nationalities were also subject to public restroom segregation. In the early 1900s, tens of thousands of Filipino men were recruited to perform low-wage work in some American states like California, Hawaii, and Alaska. There were so many Filipinos in San Francisco that they had their own dedicated neighborhood called Manilatown or Little Manila. 

The influx of Filipino workers was also met with discrimination. Because they were threats to Americans in terms of employment, they were treated poorly. Many establishments put up “No Filipinos Allowed” signs to prohibit Filipinos from getting jobs or even from just hanging out. Like African Americans, they, too, experienced restroom segregation. 

Later in the 1900s, the country saw the suspension of all segregation laws. However, as segregation was very deeply instilled in society, it was still practiced. The actual practice of racial restroom segregation ended gradually. 

The Public Restroom Issues of Today

Today, women and non-Caucasian people can freely use public restrooms. However, that doesn’t mean that the public restroom of today is perfect. There are still a lot of issues concerning the inclusivity of these facilities. One recent and still ongoing debate concerns transgender people – people who have a different gender identity or expression than the sex they’re assigned at birth.
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Should transmen be allowed to use the men’s restroom? Should transwomen be allowed to use the women’s restroom? 

Those who agree to this argue that it is safer for the transgender people to use the restrooms aligned with their gender identity. Transwomen can be harassed or even assaulted in men’s restrooms while transmen can be harassed in women’s restrooms, too.

On the other hand, those who oppose argue that allowing transwomen to use a women’s restroom can put women and children in danger.

The irony of it all is that the issue of gender segregation in public restrooms was already present since the dawn of public restrooms. As this discussion continues, the fight for restroom inclusivity and the controversies surrounding public restrooms are still far from over. Bitcoin Trader Review