Bathtubs in the White House 15 years before Fillmore

January 8, 2008

Is this the information which confirms Mencken’s writing was really a hoax? Can we confirm there was a bathtub in the White House before Millard Fillmore got there?

America’s premier building historian, William Seale, lists a timeline at the White House Historical Association that shows showers and baths installed in the White House about 15 years before Millard Fillmore could have the chance:

Caption from Smithsonian: An 1830s hand pump shower similar to those once used in the White House bathing room. Smithsonian Institution

Caption from Smithsonian: An 1830s hand pump shower similar to those once used in the White House bathing room. Smithsonian Institution


Running water was introduced into the White House in 1833. Initially its purpose was to supply the house with drinking water and to fill reservoirs for protection against fire. An engineer named Robert Leckie built the system of reservoirs, pumps, and pipes that supplied the White House, and the Treasury, State, War, and Navy buildings with water. Very soon, a “bathing room” was established in the east wing to take advantage of the
fine water supply. The room featured a cold bath, a shower, and a hot bath heated by coal fires under large copper boilers.

Source: William Seale, The President’s House, 199-200. (Photo: Hand pump shower, similar to those installed in the 1830s White House; from the Smithsonian’s collection)

In 1833, Andrew Jackson started his second term.  Regardless when in 1833 that plumbing work was done, Jackson was the president.

Seale also has Franklin Pierce improving the plumbing upstairs, in the family quarters (which may be the source of Scholastic’s claim that Pierce put the first tub in):

The 1850s saw many improvements and expansions to the mansion’s existing conveniences. By this time many Americans who had gaslight wondered how they had ever lived without it. President Zachary Taylor ordered an enlargement of the gas system into the White House’s offices, family quarters, and basement. Millard Fillmore determined that the house should be comfortable in any season and had the heating system improved. The White House of Franklin Pierce came to represent the best domestic technology of its time (1853). The heating plant was modified again with the addition of a hot-water furnace that was more efficient and healthful because the air was warmed directly by coils rather than “cooked” from outside the air chamber. Pierce also made significant improvements to the plumbing and toilet facilities, including the installation of a bathroom on the second floor with the first permanent bathing facilities. The new bathroom was luxurious in having both hot and cold water piped in. Before 1853 bathing on the second floor required portable bathtubs, and kettles of hot water had to be hauled up from the existing east wing bathing room.

Source: William Seale, The President’s House, 283, 291, 315-16; and William Seale, The White House: The History of an American Idea, 90.

And wouldn’t you know it: Seale is a native of Beaumont, Texas. It takes a Texan to get the details to dispel these hoaxes.


A Warren Chisum special: Bill gives Texas kids “right” to Bible classes

January 8, 2008

Cleaning up the mess left by the Texas Lege: Texas kids need help on history, Texas history, math, English and science, according to test scores. Texas colleges are fighting a wave of kids who graduate high school and head off to college without the key tools they need in writing and calculating.Texas Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa

But Republican state Rep. Warren Chisum has awarded them a “right” to get a Bible class, the better to avoid preparation for college, I suppose. No kidding.

Molly Ivins’ Ghost is pounding on your door trying to get your attention. From the San Antonio Express:

A new law soon will require all Texas public school districts to offer a Bible as Literature course if 15 or more students express interest, but one San Antonio public school has been offering such a course for more than 30 years.

Churchill High School in the North East Independent School District has offered the Bible as Literature since the 1970s, when English teacher Frances Everidge pioneered the course. Last year, Reagan High School, also in the NEISD, added one. New Braunfels High School has offered the course for a year, and Seguin High School will begin offering it in the fall.

Last spring, the Legislature passed House Bill 1287, along with two other bills regarding religion in public schools. HB 1287, which Gov. Rick Perry signed into law last summer, states that all school districts must offer the course as an elective at the high school level by the 2009-10 school year.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee the bill’s author, said that if 15 or more students express interest in the Bible as Literature course, districts must offer it.

School districts may not be able to provide the mathematics instruction kids need, but — By God! — they must provide instruction in the Bible.

If Warren Chisum were not real, Norman Lear, William Faulkner, the Coen brothers and the screenwriters for “Deliverance” couldn’t dream him up.

Chisum is at least up front about his bigotry against science, math, literature and other faiths:

Because the law requires a school district to offer the Bible as literature course if 15 or more students express interest, what if 15 or more students express interest in the Koran or any other religious text?

“The bill applies to the Bible as a text that has historical and literary value,” Chisum said. “It can’t go off into other religious philosophies because then it would be teaching religion, when the course is meant to teach literature. Koran is a religious philosophy, not of historical or literary value, which is what the Bible is being taught for.”

One marvels at the coincidence that Chisum never had to take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) — with history chops like that, it’s unlikely he could pass the test every high school kid must. (There is neither an education nor intelligence requirement to serve in the Texas legislature.)

I was unaware of the mandatory nature happy to hear the mandatory part had been stripped from of Chisum’s Folly. Nothing like a drunken-sailor-spending unfunded mandate from the legislature. Charles Darwin at least supported Sunday school classes with his personal fortune. Warren Chisum doesn’t have such ethics — he’s stealing the money from your property tax contributions to do it, while stealing education from the kids.

We need one of those New Yorker cartoons with some sage carrying a sign, “The End is Near.”

Cynical tip of the old scrub brush to Texas Ed Spectator (the blog formerly known as TexasEd, now in a new home)

Houston Chronicle editorial on evolution and biology classes

January 8, 2008

The Houston Chronicle continues its campaign for good education and high education standards, with another editorial taking a stand for evolution over the frivolity pending before two different education agencies in Texas government.

Publication of a call to arms labs and books by 17 different national organizations of scholars gave the Chronicle a spot to tee off:

A coalition of 17 science groups, among them the National Academy of Sciences, has just issued a call for their members to engage more in the science education process — including explaining evolution.

The coalition warns in this month’s issue of the FASEB Journal (the acronym stands for Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) that today’s muddling of scientific education with unscientific alternatives such as creationism weakens Americans’ grasp of the concepts on which science is based.

Texas creationists should be feeling the heat. Hundreds of Texas Ph.D. biologists have called the agencies to task for considering shorting evolution; Texas newspapers that have spoken out, all favor evolution as good pedagogy because it’s good science. The National Academy of Sciences published its updated call for tough standards and explaining why creationism is soft, and wrong. The experts all agree: No junk science, no voodoo science, so, no creationism in science classes.

Should be feeling the heat. Are they?

Look at the comments on the editorial at the Chronicle’s site.

Also see, or hear:

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Stanton Sharp history teaching symposium at SMU, February 9

January 8, 2008

Tired of odd speakers trying to tell you about how boys learn differently from girls because of the size of the Crockus in their brain?

How about serious material to beef up your teaching: Vietnam, the Russian Revolution, Mexicans in U.S. history, Native Americans in the 20th century, use of the internet in history classes — three sessions, each with three classes to choose from.

Poster for session on Russian Revolution, Stanton Sharp Symposium at SMU, 2008

The history department at Southern Methodist University in Dallas offers solid education in serious history issues for teachers in colleges and secondary schools. The Stanton Sharp Teaching Symposium on Saturday, February 9 offers great material in nine different areas. Several of these topics seem to be pulled from the Texas Education Agency’s list of subjects that students need to do better on, for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).

Invitation below the fold. The $15 fee includes lunch; you may earn up to 7 hours of Continuing Education Units (CEU) credits.

(I plan to be there, and if you’re really interested in the Crockus and its scholars, I happen to have a photo of the elusive Crosley Shelvador on my cell phone — he appeared to have used one of those spray-on tanning solutions, but is otherwise real, as the photos show.)

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