Transylvania County's First Public Rest Room For Women
Picturing The Past
Last updated 12/14/2020 at 3:11pm
At the dawn of the 20th century, public restrooms were hard to come by, and Brevard lacked a dedicated public restroom for women. But the town and surrounding areas were growing, and by 1918 there was a recognition that a restroom was needed for women to use when visiting and shopping in town. Keep in mind that back then, the main means of travel for most people was on horseback or horse-drawn carriages. Journeys were long and arduous. For women, especially, it was quite complicated to heed the call of nature safely and hygienically. Around that time, a state law was passed that required the provision of sanitary services, and a Superior Court judge ruled shortly afterward that it would be fully enforced.
In an article for the Brevard News on Feb. 15, 1918, Annie Jean Gash, the first president of the Transylvania Chapter for the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), offered the UDC library as an ideal location for a new ladies' restroom.
"So it would seem the time has come to put through the long cherished – longer needed – project of adding a rest room and lavatory on the court house grounds under the library roof," she wrote.
It should be noted that back then the UDC library was located near the gazebo and the building that currently houses the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas, on East Main Street, just to the right of the courthouse.
For those who don't know, the UDC is an organization of women descended from men who served for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The Transylvania Chapter of the UDC was chartered on June 7, 1911, with 25 original members. Its mission was to aid and to honor Transylvania's Confederate Veterans. Among other activities, the UDC held reunions and funeral services, secured and presented Crosses of Honor, granted scholarships, purchased metal markers for graves, and obtained government headstones. Beginning in 1912, the local UDC chapter also opened and operated (on and off) at Transylvania's first library until 1944 when it became a public library supported by town, county, and state funding. Based on newspaper articles and the UDC meeting minutes of the time, it took a great deal of community networking and fundraising to make the ladies' restroom a reality. By March 8, 1918, a Rest Room Committee had been organized and was comprised of members from all parts of the county.
Committee members represented Brevard, Penrose, Little River, Selica, Rosman, Toxaway, Pink Beds and Island Ford, as well as various civic and religious groups. E.H. Norwood, a well-known local architect and concerned citizen, offered to create the plans for the room. The Transylvania County Commissioners Office committed to installing the necessary plumbing, as well as to giving $50 annually for the rest room's maintenance. And the town of Brevard agreed to supply the water.
In the span of just over a month, by April 26, 1918, plans had been prepared "for an addition of three rooms consisting of Rest Room, Red Cross Kitchenette and Lavatory for the UDC Library Building on Court House Square." Prominent men in town promised financial assistance and local businesses supplied hardware and materials. Funds were still needed to cover carpentry and painting work, and the Brevard News informed readers that, "money for this work may be left at the Brevard Bank or with any of the merchants in town, marked, 'For the County Rest Room.'"
The planned restroom was much more than just a closet with a toilet. In addition to providing the necessary sanitary amenities, the room was meant to be a place where women could sit back and relax for a bit. It is worth noting that our modern definition of "restroom" is derived from a kind of multipurpose lounge area found in early 20th century upscale restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues. These places wanted to provide their patrons with a space for relaxation, and they were usually outfitted with comfortable chairs or sofas, plus the expected plumbing. Typically, these comfy pieces of furniture would be placed right next to the toilet and sink. This is why, when proposing a "county rest room," Annie Jean Gash asked for "permission to build under the present back porch roof of the library a rest room, toilet and lavatory."
Work on the ladies' restroom began in early June and was completed by the end of the summer of 1918. The Rest Room Committee published one final request for money and furnishings. At last, Transylvania County women, and all other female visitors, would have a place to rest and relax when visiting the town or when attending to court-related matters. Also, the new addition would provide Red Cross workers with a small kitchen area where they could prepare refreshments for their entertainment events and fundraisers. A longstanding local ambition had finally been realized.
(Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. For more information, comments, or suggestions contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or (828) 884-1820.)