Barbering History

Barbering History

The monuments of Ancient Egypt tell us that they shaved their heads as well as their beards. Razors have been found among relics of the Bronze Age (circa 3500 BC) in Egypt. The tools ancient Egyptian Barbers used to shave with were razor sharp, and looked like undersized hatchets. Men wore wigs over their shaved heads on a daily basis, as wigs were highly fashionable. Children’s heads were shaved off or cut short except for a long lock of hair left on the side of the head.

Recordings from fifth century Greece tell us that barbering was practically an art form there. Statesmen of Athens competed with one another in achieving the most excellently trimmed beards. Barbers were highly respected citizens rubbing elbows with their clientele of politicians, philosophers and artists who frequented the barber shop. The news and hubbub of the day was discussed in detail from the chair of the barber in ancient Greece.

Between 1094-96, William, archbishop of Rouen, France, prohibited the wearing of a beard. That is when the earliest known organization of barbers was formed. Barbers cut hair and practiced their shaving skills daily, but they also performed surgeries. These barber-surgeons where known as chirurgeons. When barbers became organized, they also began to thrive all over Europe. Barbers also performed dentistry at the time. These doctor-dentist-barbers were in constant conflict with the physicians proper and the standard surgeon-dentists of the time, however, the barbers continued to practice surgery as well as dentistry for centuries, benefiting from the barbering organization and the mediation of councils and kings. As a matter of fact, until the year 1416 barbers continued in this vein without much interference. Some of the duties of the barber included neck manipulation, cleaning of ears and scalp, draining of boils, fistula and lancing of cysts with wicks, bloodletting, leeching, fire cupping, enemas, as well as the extraction of teeth.

However, by 1416, too many barber-surgeons dabbled in quackery and the malpractices were brought to the attention of the mayor and council of London. An ordinance was passed at that time forbidding barbers from taking under their care any sick person in danger of death or maiming, unless within three days after being called in, they presented the patient to one of the masters of the Barber-Surgeon’s Guild.
Until 1461 only barbers practiced surgery, but new discoveries in surgery were being made in leaps and bounds (according to the times) and surgeons began to become jealous of the privileges given to barbers. In 1450, the Guild of Surgeons was incorporated with the Barbers Company by act of parliament. At that time, barbers were restricted to bloodletting, toothdrawing, cauterization and the tonsorial operations.

As the discipline of medicine, surgery and dentistry became more sophisticated; barbers became much less proficient at performing all the tasks that being a barber-surgeon-dentist demanded. Approximately June of 1745, the alliance between the barbers and surgeons was dissolved by an act of parliament, which received the sanction of the king. Barbers and surgeons became two separate companies. A comparable decision was made in France under the reign of Louis XIV. The only areas barbers dared practice the operations of surgery and dentistry were in small towns and hard-to-get-to places where doctors and dentists could not be obtained. After the barbers were prohibited from practicing medicine, surgery and dentistry, they became proficient in style and fashion.

In the beginning of barbering schools in America, the practical work of shaving, haircutting, and facial treatments, was mainly taught. Not much effort was made to professionalize the work of barbers until around 1920 when the scientific treatments of hair, skin and scalp were incorporated in the education of barbers.

For decades in America, barber shops have been locations where people exchanged stories about the news in their community, just as in ancient Greece. A social institution – as well as a place to have hair and beards groomed.

In the second half of the 20th century, Beauty Salons became more and more popular with men as well as women. A decline in Barber shops and schools began in America at that point. However, barbers have managed to reserve the right to shave with a razor – which cosmetologists do not perform unless they also possess a barbering license. For those who enjoy the luxury of a straight-razor shave, the barber shop will always be a pleasure they have in common with ancient kings, statesmen and philosophers.

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