Take it away, Carley and Lynette!
Hygiene & Hair in History
May I introduce Cassandra Courtney-Brooks, a very intelligent, independent woman, love interest to Colton Rolfe, and the lead character in our novel, No Gentleman is He.
Cassandra, there has been a great deal of confusion about how women took care of their personal hygiene in your time, especially their hair. I mean, I don’t think you have shampoo, did you? Can you tell us all about personal hygiene in 1775?
Cassandra: How very nice of you to invite me here, and the kind words. First of all, I’m afraid I do not know what this “sham-poo” is. Rather a strange name for a woman’s toilette article, don’t you think?
I always thought so too. Did you use soap?
Cassandra: Oh, heavens, no! Since soap is so caustic with lye, it’s no wonder women do not want to use it on their hair. It leaves hands red and rough, so one can only imagine what it would do to hair. I’m afraid soap is only used to wash clothing or if our bodies were extremely dirty. In my case, I had my cinch cut by a villainous man who worked for Colton Rolfe, the owner of Varina Farms plantation. I landed in the mud and got exceedingly dirty, not to mention a few unflattering bruises. It was most decidedly not the way to treat a lady of high birth, don’t you agree?
It’s no way to treat any lady, no matter her social status. It seems there was very little in written records concerning hair care and hygiene in general during those times, and as a result many writers have skipped over those parts, and as a reader it’s frustrating too.
Cassandra: I’m not surprised future people would not know of such facts if you have a different way, since women would not want to have such intimate procedures on record. We are quite modest in what we discuss, even in private. In fact, I very much doubt it would even occur to us. But hair is washed far less than it is in your time if what Lynette Willows and Carley Bauer tells me is true of your time, with running water all the time whenever you want it. How magical it seems to me.
Regardless, imagine all those thick, long locks and how long it takes to dry in front of a fire, or outside in the sun. Many women of my acquaintance adopt elaborate and up-swept fashions that serve to conceal oily and scraggly hair. Most styles involve braiding or knots and covered by dainty caps or bonnets.
You must understand that this is highly improper of me to speak about. We simply do not discuss such things in polite mixed society. However, my creator informs me it is perfectly acceptable in the future, so I relented to her request and will explain.
Thank you for going against societal expectations and being candid with us.
Cassandra: Oh, not at all. As you probably know from reading my story, I was not one to stick to rules as I should.
Most times we use plain water and scrub our head vigorously. In fact, we save rain water, though most of the affluent families have wells from which we draw our water. Colton’s plantation is quite progressive, you know, having a ready source of water in the yard. Rain water, when it’s attainable, leaves hair shiny and silkier. Water from ground wells tend to be harsher, though we are not sure why. Perhaps in the future they will have reasoned why.
We have, but I won’t burden you with that knowledge. But how could plain water work?
Cassandra: Oily hair is naturally resistant to water, as we all know when trying to wash a greasy pan or get grease off your hands. However water, if worked with vigor on scalp and hair strands, can be quite effective on getting dirt from the hair. The natural oils, when left behind, actually made the hair softer, shinier and easier to manage.
But another problem is the smell of wet hair, which can be unpleasant indeed. So rose water or other scents are used if a lady wanted to be fragrant. Some men even use “pomades” to scent hair and clothing. Some popular rinses are rosemary tea or apple cider vinegar if they didn’t have rose water available.
Please excuse me if this next part is indelicate, but I feel for the sake of information I must include it. There is another treatment applied to ensure hair remained lice and pest free and maintained its healthy appearance and feel. My mother instilled in me, as most mothers do, that “100 strokes a night” before bed is vital because it not only de-tangles long locks but also distributed the natural oil of hair to the ends.
I also have long hair, and my mother also taught me this.
Cassandra: Then you were taught well. As women know, preventing excessive oiliness at the roots and dryness at the bottom also cuts down on split ends. If a woman has an excessively oily scalp, they will vigorously rub the scalp to “wipe away” any excessive oil right after washing. Fortunately, I do not suffer from this malady.
What about tangles? Long hair is can be quite difficult to brush.
Cassandra: Recently, a new discovery has come to us which I find most fortuitous. It is called “co-co-nut oil”. It was discovered quite by accident, but I’m afraid I must delve into a bit of recent history that may embarrass Colton and others in the American colonies, so I hope they will forgive me.
I’m sure they will. But why embarrassing?
Cassandra: Well, it involves the most unsavory tradition of slavery, of which my mother country, England, had recently outlawed. The trade in human lives was recently recognized as a crime against humanity and God. To prevent the recent embargo on slave ships entering English ports brought about a few short years ago, Americans started to ship slaves directly to Southern areas like Florida, Brazil, Columbia, Guiana, Venezuela, and the Caribbean, most destined to work on sugar and coffee plantations. However, some were bought by slave traders from these southern areas and transported by land north, to be purchased by tobacco plantations and large farmers. When some of these slaves came north, they brought with them this “coconut oil”.
In South America, coconut oil is plentiful, but it was commonly used for cooking and frying. It was also discovered by the slaves to be perfect for softening the skin and used as a moisturizer. The black people started to liberally use it on their bodies. Shortly after, they also discovered that the oil and milk from this strange fruit made the hair shiny and healthier, and it was even reported that older slaves delayed greying of the hair by using it regularly. For most of us white women, it was slow to catch on, most seeing it as a “black” beauty procedure. They believed that coconut oil would result in their skin becoming darker. Quite ridiculous, of course, for an enlightened woman such as myself, if I may be so immodest. But since white skin is a sign of beauty and prosperity, they stayed well clear of it for a long time. Instead, they stuck to their arsenic and mercury laden cosmetics that ended up killing a good many women, as I recently discovered.
However, I and a few other women in the Americas implemented the same toilette regime, delighting in softer skin and using it in our hair to tame the elaborate hair styles, as well as enjoying vibrantly colored hair that the oil accented. It also helped to reduce the effects of sea salt for those living on the coast, which often dried the hair and caused a straw-like consistency.
And there you have it. I hope this is some help to you and your readers.
It is indeed, and thank you again for your candor and your visit.
About No Gentleman is He:
Young, adventurous and widowed in a new land, Cassandra Courtney Brooks finds her dream of raising a superior breed of saddle horse slipping away with the death of her husband. Left with four horses, living in a tavern attic, and her scant savings depleting, she resolves to see her vision through to fruition by accepting the scandalous position of steward at Varina Farms.
Born in the image of his native ancestry, Colton Rolfe’s savage blood runs through his veins. Scorned by his father, Colt grew into a man of ill temperament whose only interest is the wild equine beasts on his plantation. His desire to breed his horses with the superior Thoroughbreds of the newly widowed Cassandra Brooks leads him to abandon societal rules. Colt’s growing resentment toward the Crown and his assistance to Sons of Liberty missions is complicated by the discovery that Cassandra’s father is a titled English nobleman.
Cassandra is soon forced to question the wisdom of her decision when she finds herself enamored with her employer. As fiery passion grows between them, Cassandra realizes her own spirit of independence, love of the land, and the savage man who is so much a part of it.
As the threat of war comes ever closer, wills are tested through gunfire, treachery, danger, and kidnapping. Does Colt dare trust Cassandra with Sons of Liberty secrets? More importantly, can he trust her with his heart? And will Colt ever trust Cassandra enough to love her as she longs to be loved?