Friday, July 17, 2015

Water and Cleanliness and City Life

Yesterday, I bought a book, the Life of Kitty Wilkinson, by Michael Kelly off Amazon. An inexpensive Kindle book.

I bought it because yesterday I listened to a BBC Radio Four Extra Drama from 1999, I think, Kitty Wilkinson.

Good Stuff!

Kitty was a Liverpool woman in the early 1800's who became a cleanliness advocate, with a difference. She was working class. She was a washerwoman herself, the lowest of the low.

And she opened her home and boiler to her neighbours so they could wash their clothes and keep away the cholera.

She did the washing herself, with the help of a few upper class 'do-gooders' who weren't afraid to get their hands wet.

The play is by David Pownall.

I am particularly interested because the play covers exactly the same territory as my Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927.

Purity, purity, purity. Washing away sins. Difference between Protestant and Catholic 'good works'.

There's even some Kantian issues in there: what it means to be virtuous. Is being virtuous out of sentimentality and emotions not worth as much as being virtuous out of reason? (Something like that.)

Kitty was a tough woman, described in the play as perhaps having little empathy, or she couldn't take on the dirty work she did.

Mother Theresa like.

It is explained that the 1932 cholera epidemic came out of India.. Well, in 1910 Montreal had the highest infant mortality rate in the Western World, described as not much better than in Calcutta.

Thanks to Kitty Wilkinson, the first public wash house was created in Liverpool (perhaps in all of England.)

In the late 1800s Montreal started building 'bathhouses' in imitation of England. By 1927 there were 16 of them, the latest a wonderful Art Deco building on Amherst that now houses the Eco Museum du Fiers Monde, a working class museum - that criticizes the Square Mile  the Protestant Elite of Montreal, the same elite that fought for the bathhouses.

Ironic. I took the picture below a couple of years ago. The bathhouse was built during the tenure of my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, who was Director of City Services He is a main character in Milk and Water.