Generally the exhibit planners in museums strive to take advantage of as much of the available space as possible. Sometimes, that exhibit space even extends to some unexpected areas!
Display panels in the bathrooms at the NMCWM provide the visitors with some educational reading material about sanitation, sewer systems, and bathrooms in Civil War hospitals. Outhouses are what come to mind for most people when they think of in regards to the period of the Civil War. Though there were plenty of outhouses in use at the time, some of the hospitals did have “water closets” and plumbing. A detail of one bathroom panel shows the Lovell General Hospital in Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island. The rectangular buildings are the hospital wards. The larger buildings near the center are the administration building and kitchen. The two smaller rectangular buildings over the water are the sinks, or outhouses. This image is from The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, Volume VI. Dr. William Hammond, the Surgeon General of the Union Army, recommended that the hospitals be equipped with bathtubs, toilets and washbasins for the patients. Though not all of the hospitals were able to meet these recommendations, many of them did. This diagram shows the Satterlee Hospital in Philadelphia. This image is from The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, Volume VI. The text from the panel describes the facilities at Satterlee: "On the left end of the figure, the ward is connected to the rest of the hospital, in this case by a corridor which leads to the other parallel pavilions. The far end of the ward held the toilet and washing facilities, separated from the patients by a narrow corridor. The bath room had a cast iron tray with hot and cold water pipes running above. The wash basins were placed in the tray, and waste water ran down the tray into a drain pipe. A cast iron bathtub with hot and cold water was also in the room. Hot water was steam heated in the kitchen and distributed to the wards in iron pipes. There was only one tub for 48 patients, while the hospital standard would have recommended three, one for every 16 patients. In the water closet room, a 12 foot long cast iron trough was placed under toilet seats. A constant flow of water carried waste matter into a sewer line. Satterlee was fortunate to have a municipal water supply and sewage system available. Many hospitals had to pump water from rivers, creeks, or ponds and then discharge their waste water into holding tanks, cesspools, or even the supply from whence it came. At Camp Dennison Hospital in Ohio, the waste water was discharged in the supply river upstream from the intake point, a highly undesirable practice." To see an example of a 19th century bathroom, see the article here. So, even while in the bathroom, visitors can learn something about Civil War Medicine! Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.