Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Part 2 Hot Springs National Park Arkansas

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One interesting part of the history of the Hot Springs Baths is the part African Americans played in the operation AND use of the baths. Before the Civil War, blacks worked throughout the bath houses but after the Civil War, when Jim Crow laws were in effect, blacks were still allowed to work in the bathhouses but did not have free acess to bathing in them. The federal government began providing free baths for poor people after 1878 by building a frame bathhouse over the "mud hole" spring and continued to provide a free segregated bathhouse for indigents until 1956.
In the early 1900s, bathhouses owned and operated by African Americans were opened but the local tradition of segregation continued until 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed. In the 1880s black patrons could buy tickets at the Ozark Bathhouse, the Independent Bathhouse and possibly the Rammelsberg Bath House BUT they were not allowed to bathe during the hours considered optimum by prescribing physicians and particularly from 10 AM to 12 noon. The Crystal Bathhouse which opened in 1904 was the first constructed for exclusive use of African Americans. In 1908, the lease was transferred to the Knights of Pythias and in 1913 the Crystal burned in a fire that destroyed 50 city blocks.
The Pythian was built on the site of the Crystal Bathhouse by the Knights of Pythias of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, an insurance organization, and opened in December 1914.
In the early 1920s, the Woodmen of the Union, a fraternal insurance company, built the Woodmen of the Union Building which was the primary health care facility for the African American community and included a hospital, doctor and dental offices and a bathhouse since other medical facilities in the city were for whites only. The hospital treated members free and also treated black indigent patients referred from other health care facilities in Hot Springs. The African American National Baptist Convention bought the Woodmen of the Union Building in 1948 and spent 2 years remodeling it.
Other than management, the mainstay of the bath industry from early times was the bath attendant and until the 1980s, most were African American. Massage services were added in some bathhouses in the 1893 and later chiropodists (for bathers' foot problems). By the early 1900s, all bathhouses offered massage.
The first two postcards below show the men's area of the bathhouse with one showing black attendants (postcard printed in 1931) while the other has white attendants (printed in 1923).
All of these postcards are available on my website at Moody's Postcards.
The last two postcards below show the ladies area of the bathhouse and do NOT show black attendants BUT the first postcard was printed in 1913 and the second one is a reprint of the first one (date of reprint unknown) with the caption "White Attendants" added.

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