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Beating the Heat in Our Underwear


Yesterday when my air conditioner was blowing hot air and I had to turn it off, I thought about the time before air conditioning. Before we had electricity, the only fans were the funeral home fans or a palm leaf fan, and all they did was move the hot air around. At night doors and windows were left open in the hope for a cool breeze. After we got electricity we had small oscillating fans that moved the hot air a little faster than the funeral home fans did.
In the summer of 1941 while attending Oklahoma A&M College, I lived on the third floor of Willard Hall with no air conditioning or electric fan. To stay cool while we studied we sat in our underwear with a wet towel draped over our shoulders. In Biochemistry class we had to collect a 24-hour urine sample to test in the lab.

I lived in Alabama in the 1940s before air conditioning. One summer I lived on the third floor of the Alabama Apartments with a small electric fan. Somehow we managed to survive. My worst summer was probably in 1945 when I worked at Herman Hospital in Houston. I had to stand over a steam table in a hot kitchen, checking trays. When the tray line finished, I was could eat lunch but I was too hot to eat. That's when I learned to drink iced coffee. I took a glass of ice to the coffee urn and filled it with coffee, which refreshed me enough that I could eat.
It wasn't until I moved to Little Rock and was expecting my second baby in the summer of 1955 that we got two window air conditioners. Before then, I remember a good friend from Pangburn was a patient in St. Vincent Hospital and I took her an electric fan from our house, because there was no air conditioning at the hospital. When I went to work at the VA Hospital in 1959, the only part of the hospital to have air conditioning was the dog lab and the library. I would go to the library to plan menus and do my paperwork. The poor patients suffered from the heat and it really affected their appetite. It was much later that we had air conditioning in our cars. I remember driving to Florida one summer in a little Corvair with no air conditioning, we nearly roasted and the girls kept saying, "are we there yet?"
We are so spoiled today; we wonder how we lived in the past. We may be paying a big price for our comfort, if it results in global warming.