BALTIMORE CITY ARCHIVES
(Public Bath Commission)
Baltimore was one of the first American cities to provide public baths. In 1893 Reverend J. M. Beadenhopf, concerned with the welfare of his congregation, established a temporary bathing shore. The following year a bath commission was created by the municipal government with the Reverend Beadenhopf as secretary and given a five hundred dollar appropriation to maintain three bathing shores. The commission was able to enlist the support of Henry Walters who, in 1899, donated fifty thousand dollars for the building of two permanent bathing houses. The first of these opened in 1900. Walters continued to support the public bathers by building three more houses, the last in 1922.
In 1900 the mayor appointed a seven member commission to oversee the operation of the bath houses and the city's public comfort stations. In 1916 the commission built the first school bath at Public School No. 6, leading to the inclusion of bathing facilities in all new schools after 1924.
By 1939 the commission maintained free bathing in six houses and twenty-seven public schools. They also operated fourteen portable showers during the summer months. For a nominal fee of five cents, a bather was entitled to a bar of soap, a towel, and a hot bath or shower. Laundry rooms outfitted with tubs and drying racks were located at several bathhouses allowing the patrons the convenience of being able to wash their clothes as well as themselves. By 1953 the commission also supervised several outdoor swimming pools.
Attendance at the baths began to decline in the early lgso's. The need for public baths was diminished by slum removal projects and new housing regulations of the health department which required a bathtub or shower in every dwelling unit by January 1, 1956. The commission was attacked by the Commission on Government Efficiency and Economy, headed by Councilman Richard D. Byrd in 1957. Councilman Byrd maintained that the public bath system was wasteful. Two years later it was abolished and the school bath program continued under the Department of Education.
For background information see: Anne Beadenkopf, "The Baltimore Public Baths and Their Founder, The Reverend Thomas M. Beadenkopf," Maryland Historical Magazine 45 (September 1950): 201-14.