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Communal showers are a group of single showers put together in one room or area. They are often used in changerooms, prisons, and army barracks for personal hygiene. Though not as prevalent in the West today, communal showers are often present in school locker rooms for use in personal hygiene after physical education. They also continue to exist in some gymnasia and many swimming pools. The practice of communal showers is not without controversy.
Modern communal showers were installed in the barracks of the French army in the 1870s as an economic hygiene measure, under the guidance of François Merry Delabost, a French doctor and inventor. As surgeon-general at Bonne Nouvelle prison in Rouen, Delabost had previously replaced individual baths with mandatory communal showers for use by prisoners, arguing that they were more economical and hygienic. The French system of communal showers was adopted by other armies, the first being that of Prussia in 1879, and by prisons in other jurisdictions. They were also adopted by boarding schools, before being installed in public bathhouses. The first shower in a public bathhouse was in 1887 in Vienna, Austria. In France, public bathhouses and showers were established by Charles Cazalet, firstly in Bordeaux in 1893 and then in Paris in 1899.
In continental Europe, students tend to shower communally in sex-segregated changerooms after physical education classes. Fathers taking their young daughters or mothers taking their young sons into the gender-segregated changing rooms is mostly viewed as non-controversial, although some public baths have introduced family changing rooms. Some private gymnasiums have instituted rules specifically prohibiting family members of opposite genders taking their children into single-sex locker rooms. In public saunas in north west part of continental Europe, it is very common to see mixed changerooms and showers.
In the U.S. and some of the English-speaking majority of Canada, students at public schools have historically been required to shower communally with classmates of the same sex after physical education classes. In the U.S., public objections and the threat of lawsuits have led a number of school districts in recent years to change policy to make showers optional or to abolish the practice entirely. Private boarding schools and military academies in the U.S. often have communal showers, since the focus there is on 24-hours-a-day education and rooming, rather than just acting as day schools. Students in these establishments need places to clean themselves daily.
A court case in Colorado noted that students have a reduced expectation of personal privacy in regards to "communal undress" while showering after physical education classes. According to an interview with a middle school principal, most objections to showering at school that he had heard were actually from the students' parents rather than from the students.
- Hervé Dajon, La douche, une invention d’un médecin des prisons, le docteur Merry Delabost, Criminocorpus, 2010 Online text - in French
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