'The ladies ought to have
at least three nights in the week':
women and Victorian Turkish baths



This is a single frame, printer-friendly page taken from

one of the linked parts of an article published on Malcolm Shifrin's website

Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline


Original illustrated page with notes and links



6: Attitudes to privacy, nudity, and exercise

Not everyone thought that prices alone were responsible for there being fewer women bathers than men. ‘Penelope’ suggested in the Rochdale Times that,

there is something contrary to feminine instinct in the gregarious nature of a public Turkish bath. We like such things best at home, or at all events at some bathing establishment where we may be residing for a time…

Penelope’s solution was the portable Turkish bath which was, she confirmed, easily assembled at home.

Robert Owen Allsop, the only architect to write extensively on the bath, understood that many British women, unlike their French counterparts at Aix-les-bains, preferred not to get undressed or take showers in communal areas.

‘In ladies’ baths,’ he wrote, ’more privacy must be observed. Each lady bather should have a private dressing and reposing room, even if only formed by dwarf wooden partitions,’ and ‘private shampooing recesses’ should be formed with partitions of wood and ‘obscure glass.’

But many women probably swam naked in the plunge pools, just as the men did. For although there are numerous references to ‘full loose robes,’ or ‘a kind of toga…descending from the shoulders’, no other garments are ever mentioned, however detailed the description of the bathing process.

But in suggesting that ‘a plain, circular bath with steps around’ would be appropriate because in ‘ladies’ baths… the true dive does not pertain,’ Allsop was clearly unaware of the active female membership of the burgeoning mid-1880s swimming clubs.

The typical male view was still that women should never undertake physical exercise or exert themselves in any way. As the pseudonymous author of a booklet espousing the bath declared in 1858, ‘to ladies, to invalids, and men of business, whose sedentary occupations preclude the possibility of healthful exercise,’ the Turkish bath was ‘an inestimable boon.’

Proprietors reinforced such attitudes, unimaginatively parroting each other. In 1895, Joseph Constantine reprinted advice written several years earlier ‘by a medical man’:

Ladies need these baths even more than gentlemen, and are more benefited by them, owing to their being more confined to the house and not getting so much exercise in the open air as men do.

Incredibly, this was reprinted almost word for word nearly 80 years after it was first written, in a booklet published by Derby Council in 1964—the Swinging Sixties.

7: The Victorian Turkish bath and women's health



The original page includes thumbnail pictures which can be enlarged.
All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.

Century at home

The delight of bathing

Be Clean !!!

Connecting to the gas

Woman reading in a cabinet bath

Showering in a public area

Male and female cooling-rooms at the Nottingham Hammam

Maud and friends visit the Turkish bath: 1

Top of the page


All complete pages,
with images, footnotes,
glossary & bibliography,
can be reached from the

Printer-friendly single frame
versions of all text pages
(and from them, all images)
can be reached from the

You can bookmark this page

Home Page

You can print this page

Site map

Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

Comments and queries are most welcome and can be sent to:


The right of Malcolm Shifrin to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him
in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988