Respect the humble outhouse, says one New Mexico professor, who wants the Southwest’s remaining humble outdoor shitters preserved for posterity. It’s all too easy to forget, in these days of ubiquitous indoor plumbing, how important they once were.

The AP spotlights the work of Richard Melzer, a history professor at the University of New Mexico-Valencia who’s been studying the outhouse and the role it played out West. “They had a tremendous cultural impact on the region,” he told the AP, which explains:

In New Mexico, they served residents such as ranch hands tending to cattle and rural teachers educating the children of chile pickers. And they did so while protecting the environment and important water resources.

Inside, one might find a Bible, old tools, or catalogs from Montgomery Ward or Sears, Roebuck and Co. Two seats meant a higher economic status for owners, and the walls might be plastered with wallpaper to keep away insects or unwanted audiences.

Such items can still be found in some abandoned outhouses.

And when they started rolling out newfangled indoor facilities, not everybody was convinced it was an upgrade. “People thought it was just gross,” said Melzer. “That’s what the outhouse was for, they thought. For out there.”

It’s not clear how many outhouses are still lying around—possibly hundreds—and they’re apparently becoming a bit of a collector’s item. Get ‘em before they’re gone, folks.


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

Photo via Shutterstock.