Did you know Baltimore City had public bath houses in operation as late as 1959?
For most of human history, private bath facilities were a rare commodity. In the 19th century, municipal governments realized the benefits of cleanliness for public health. Wealthier residents had accommodations with access to water and sewer systems that residents in more urban areas lacked.
In Baltimore City, the first bath house was opened in 1901, after the newly formed Free Public Bath Commission reported their findings to the public. Henry Walters, a wealthy railroad tycoon, offered to erect three baths in Baltimore after a visit to Egypt, where he was made aware of the benefits bathing had to people’s health. All Baltimore bathhouses, with the exception of one, were donated by Walters and operated by the municipal government.
Patronage had declined in 1915, and the Board of Estimates ordered all public bathing facilities closed by the end of 1959. An elderly gentleman was the last person to take a bath in a Baltimore bathhouse on December 29, 1959.