Memorializing the backhouse: Sanitizing and satirizing outhouses in the American South

by Safron, Helena, M.A., THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL, 2009, 218 pages; 1472906


This thesis examines the large-scale adoption of shed-roofed, pit privies into the vernacular architecture and imagined landscape of the American South (1902-1942). Beginning in the early twentieth century, public health campaigns pressed for sanitary changes in the South, particularly sanitary privies. Using the existing vernacular privy architecture, progressive campaigners helped institute material changes that both bolstered and undermined the political power of many southerners. These privy construction efforts peaked during the New Deal. Concurrently, government surveys and photography thrust southern homes and their functional parts into the national spotlight. Outhouses emerged as popular symbols for debasing those with power, such as national leaders, as well as those who had little, particularly rural southerners. By examining the wills that produced these architectural changes, this thesis explores how politics and power manifest on vernacular landscapes and how these political campaigns impacted both the built environment and political identity of the American South.

AdviserKatherine R. Roberts
Source TypeThesis
SubjectsAmerican studies; Folklore; Architecture
Publication Number1472906

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