CORVALLIS, Ore. – A University of Pennsylvania scholar will give a free public lecture on May 19 at Oregon State University, during which she will compare the historic bathing practices of Americans and Europeans.

This third lecture in OSU’s 2007-08 American Culture & Politics series, titled “Civilizing Bodies in the Early Atlantic and Antebellum United States,” will be given by Kathleen Brown. It begins at 4 p.m. in Memorial Union Room 208.

For nearly three centuries, many ordinary Europeans and Euro-Americans regarded bathing with suspicion, as an unhealthy and immoral practice. This reluctance to bathe emerged despite long-standing Judeo-Christian traditions that equated bodily cleanliness with spiritual purity and a vibrant medieval culture of bathing in public bath houses, private baths, and mineral springs.

What happened to turn people against the bath? And how and why did they become convinced, several centuries later, that bathing was not only not dangerous, but a key to good health and moral virtue?

Brown’s talk addresses these major shifts in the history of the body, with special attention to the role of cultures in contact in the early Atlantic and the subsequent transformation in women’s reputations for bodily cleanliness. By the middle of the 19th century, bathing had been reinstalled as a cornerstone of good health and hygiene.

Brown received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of “Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (1996)” and “Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America (2008).” She teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania.

For more information, contact the History Department at 541-737-8560 or visit


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Elissa Curcio,