Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Rudger Clawson Takes a Bath, 1912

Rudger Clawson Takes a Bath, 1912

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 10, 2011

Not that that was the only time that he bathed. No, no, I doubt it was. It’s just that this time, there is documentation for it.

If they gave merit badges for significant Mormon service, Rudger Clawson would have a sashful. Born in Salt Lake City in 1857, he served a mission to the Southern States in his early 20s – and on July 21, 1879, he was standing next to his companion, Joseph Standing, when Elder Standing was shot and killed at Varnell Station, Georgia. When the mobbers turned their guns toward Clawson, he folded his arms across his chest and told the men to shoot. They didn’t – his courage in the face of death evidently shamed them and the crowd melted away.

Soon after his return from that mission, Clawson was tried and convicted of unlawful cohabitation and sentenced to 3-1/2 years in the penitentiary by our old friend Judge Charles S. Zane – who also briefly imprisoned Clawson’s wife Lydia for contempt of court in refusing to testify against her husband – examples of the harshness with which that judge treated polygamists. Clawson had served about three years of his term and paid a $1,500 fine (most unlawful cohabitation fines were $300) when he was pardoned by President Grover Cleveland.

Clawson was called as an apostle in 1898, serving in that quorum (with the exception of his four-day calling as a counselor to Lorenzo Snow) until his death in 1943.

His apostolic duties were increased in the years 1910 to 1913 when he served as president of the European Mission. While his base was in England, at a time of unrest and great difficult for Church members and missionaries in England, his duties also took him to the Continent as he toured missions there, meeting with the Saints and supervising the missionaries. In the summer of 1912, such a mission tour took him to Vienna, and then to Budapest. He reported:

The trip down the Danube river in a small steamboat from Vienna to Budapest, a distance of one hundred and seventy-five miles, and covering fourteen hours of time, was an event worthy of record. The weather, the scenery and the river all combined to emphasize the natural beauties of the country. No more impressive sight could well be imagined than that which met the eye as the boat gracefully floated down the river and reached the dock at Budapest at 9:30 p.m. A blaze of electric light, coming from many points along the river banks as well as the hill sides – for the city is built partly on rolling hills – shone round about us. it was dazzling in its intensity, but surprisingly pleasant to the senses. …

Budapest has a population of 900,000. One is struck with the many fine buildings and well-paved streets that may be seen in this inland city. It has a Parliament building, an art gallery, a court house, a statue of George Washington, and many fine residences, but it has an institution which excels anything of the kind we have ever seen, and that is a swimming bath. “Wash and be clean,” is a trite saying. Here this injunction has a complete answer.

One is simply amazed at the elaborate and luxurious appointments of Budapest’s bath-house. There are several swimming pools of varying degrees of temperature, ranging from very hot to very cool – there are a number of shower baths and steam rooms. Connected with the institution is a sun bath on the roof, a barber-shop, a manicuring shop, and a restaurant. The accommodations for the ladies are equally as elaborate and extensive as for the men.

The luxury of a bath in this wonderful institution resolves itself into this: The patron disrobes. He enters the steam room; from thence he goes to the large swimming pool, which is fitted up with every known modern device; after which he enters the warm pool and immediately plunges into the hot pool, from which he emerges with a gasp, which lengthens out into an exclamation when he passes under a cold shower. At this point he is rubbed down and thoroughly manipulated by attendants.

An armless linen robe having been thrown over his shoulders, he steps into a continuous moving elevator and is carried to the roof, where he takes a sun bath, after which he finds his way into the manicuring department and there submits to the very delightful experience of having his finger nails and later his toe nails treated and trimmed by skillful operators. He then passes under the gentle touch of the barber, who cuts his hair, shaves him, gives him a shampoo and puts a final “touch” on his pocket-book. He is now ready for lunch and it is served to him as he sits there in all the abandon of “dishabille.”

If after he goes through all these varied processes he is not a new man, it simply means that he cannot be made over and must remain “unclean still.” The traveler who goes to Budapest and fails to take a bath misses an opportunity that may never come to him again.

Oh, and while he was in Budapest, Clawson also held a conference with eleven Austrian and Hungarian elders.




  1. FUN story! Especially considering his somewhat legendary status as being something of a humorless, “Stuffed-Shirt” (a good exampleare stories of he and J Golden clashing over Kimballs humor). Even for those General Authorities who aren’t known for their seriousness, it is always nice to get a glimpse of their human side.

    Considering your recent post on “Mormon Doctrine” I wonder what Elder McConkie would have had to say about missionaries/General Authorities visting bath houses?

    Comment by andrew h — October 10, 2011 @ 7:06 am

  2. A bit more classy than the bloggernacle stories of modern missionaries attending a bath house in Japan.

    Comment by Bookslinger — October 10, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  3. But it probably cost a bit more than the 100 yen that the neighborhood bathhouse cost.

    It’s unlikely that many modern missionaries make it to the “resort” baths in Japan, where the experience would be much more like the one Elder Clawson had in Budapest. Next time I’m in Japan, I’ll have to go to one, and will write a full report–complete with everything, but pictures.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 10, 2011 @ 8:10 am

  4. Abraham H. Cannon wrote of a similar experience when he visited NY, and he took regular Turkish baths and massages for his leg, as I remember. Delightful.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 10, 2011 @ 9:27 am

  5. Here’s the record of one of AHCannon’s 1890 Turkish baths:

    “I had my massage treatment from Dr. Uronius, and then went to 55th street and had a Turkish and Russian bath. I first went into the hot air room where I remained 50 min. The thermometer registered 165̊. Then I was thoroughly lathered and scrubbed by an attendant. I then went into the steam bath where the thermometer showed 130̊. This heat was so penetrating that I could not long endure it. On entering the bath I weighed 177 lbs. naked, and lost three pounds while there. On coming out I was thoroughly rubbed with towels and then bay rum. After lying down a short time I dressed and felt weak but very much refreshed. The whole operation occupied about two hours.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 10, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  6. I just can’t see any of today’s current Apostles spending their time doing something like this anywhere! But maybe I’m wrong, I often am.

    Great story Ardis!

    Comment by Cliff — October 10, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  7. no. 6 — If one did, would we recoil in horror? Times change, and standards change — but right and wrong don’t change, some will say — if visiting the bath in the old days wasn’t “wrong” then, how can it be “wrong” now? I enjoy the article and seeing how people lived in the old days. it refreshens my perspective and my understanding. History is wonderful. Opinions made without a knowledge of history are dangerous. The study of history is essential.

    Comment by ji — October 10, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

  8. I don’t suppose Cliff meant it as a matter of right and wrong, but of imagination and familiarity. We generally don’t get such an unbuttoned — literally — look at today’s Apostles that it’s a stretch to imagine them in these unfamiliar activities. Obviously, though, they do care about dress and grooming, and were at their best last weekend. That doesn’t happen by rolling out of bed, forgetting to wash their faces or shave, pulling on the rumpled suits they threw over a chair or dropped on the floor last night, and wishing they had found time for a haircut yesterday. We just aren’t treated to the details the way Rudger Clawson gave them … and, um, I for one am glad of that!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 10, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  9. Ardis, yes you were correct. I did not mean my comment as a right or wrong issue…merely that I would like to think that maybe the Apostles are just a bit more busy than before now that the church is literally world wide.

    Comment by Cliff — October 10, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

  10. when he was pardoned by President Grover Cleveland

    He wasn’t the only polygamist pardoned by this president, and as a result the main street in St. Johns, Arizona, is named Cleveland Street, and the hill on the west side of town is called Grover’s Hill.

    Comment by Researcher — October 10, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

  11. Ardis do you happen to know anything about the “eleven Austrian and Hungarian Elders” that RC visited?

    Comment by Jpaul — October 11, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

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