The Importance of Outhouses on the Homestead

Outhouses played an important role on the homestead before running water was readily available.

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Outhouses - what memories are conjured up with the mention of that word - memories instilled in our youthful minds as our grandmother related the settling of a pioneer homestead, upon which the outhouse played such an important part. Bleached by the relentless summer sun, or penetrated by winter blasts, it served an additional purpose in giving a feeling of "getting settled" to the pioneer family.

Growing up on the farm in the era preceding the installation of running water in most homes, we have a great many memories and experiences connected with outhouses.

We oftentimes heard people referring to their outhouses as "one," "two," or "three holers," and our childish minds judged their financial status accordingly.

Occasionally we youngsters used this little building "out back" not only for comfort's sake, but to hide in as we played "Hide and Seek" or to delay beginning washing the dishes. At times, we sought to evade our turn to fill the wood box. I clearly remember my attempt to escape a well-deserved chastisement by locking myself in the outhouse until I hoped my mother's disapproval had abated, only to find my reward waiting for me. It was a lesson I never forgot.

The inside walls of some outhouses became bulletin boards to proclaim the names of a certain romantic duo, or the name or initials of the latest "heart throb." The names of salesmen or their company phone numbers, names of new brands of seed or oil, or other farm memos might appear on these walls, as the farmer jotted them as he worked around the farm yard and lacked paper to write on at the moment.

Today I am thankful for my modern bathroom with its wide mirrors, colorful porcelain fixtures and shiny chrome, but I am glad to have experienced the days of the outhouse, as it has helped me to really appreciate what we have now.

Reva M. Smith
Abilene, Kansas


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.