One the one hand, charging people to answer nature’s call seems cruel. On the other hand, building and maintaining public restrooms isn’t cheap. And so came the concept of the pay toilet, which goes back at least to the Roman Empire. But the number of pay toilets reached its peak in the mid-20th century.
There was a perceived safety aspect to toilet locks, as the barrier of payment was thought to discourage drug use, sexual activity, thefts, or “hippies” from loitering, though it’s not clear why any persons using the toilet for nefarious purposes couldn’t just pay their dime and get on with it.
But there was a larger, more glaring issue: While toilets were subject to a fee, urinals were not. That meant men had the freedom to empty their bladders without being charged, while women looking to use a stall had to pay.
It was a subtle form of gender discrimination, but it didn’t go unnoticed. In 1969, California State Assemblywoman March Fong Eu took to the steps of the California State Capitol building and smashed a porcelain toilet with a sledgehammer to protest the inequality promoted by the locked stalls. It was the beginning of a revolution.
Read what it took to turn the tide on pay toilets, even though they aren’t completely gone even today, at Mental Floss.
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