We prefer not to think about it, but the unfortunate fact is that human beings have natural functions that must be attended to. If we attend to them in the street, we will be arrested. The alternative is to go to some place that is privately owned, where we are subject to the whims of the owner.
Our ancestors occasionally attempted to deal with the problem more forthrightly than we are willing to do. From a 1913 magazine:
Public Comfort Stations in Pittsburgh
Two new public comfort stations installed by the county commissioners at the Allegheny County courthouse in Pittsburgh on either side of the Fifth Avenue entrance have been opened for public use. There are two rooms provided, one for women and one for men. They have been finished in white marble and fitted with most modern plumbing appliances.
A rest room for women is furnished with chairs and couches, and the women’s station will be in charge of a matron from 8 a. m. to 11 p. m. Towels, soap, brushes and combs will be found in both stations free of charge. The men’s station will be open at all hours day and night.
With the opening of the new stations Allegheny County will have four public comfort stations in use in Pittsburgh, two on the Federal Street Bridge and the courthouse station.
—Building Age, 1913.