Taking a bath might sound like a simple act, but this collection of photos from the archives of LIFE shows more variety than you might have imagined.

The breadth is hinted at in the first two photos in the collection. One is of actress Jayne Mansfield from LIFE’s Aug. 18, 1961 issue, taking a tub in a bathroom that is decorated floor-to-ceiling in pink shag. The room is, like the voluptuous blonde herself, an over-the-top expression of 1950s femininity. The photo also presents the bath at its most familiar, as a moment of relaxation and indulgence.

Contrast that with the bath taken by coal miner Mabrey Evans, which captures in one image the challenges of his circumstances. The photo was taken for a story in LIFE’s May 10, 1943 issue on labor issues in the coal industry. The story described how after a hard day of work, Evans would kneel in front of a washtub and scrub himself clean:

The washing process takes Miner Mabrey Evans about 45 minutes every evening. He carefully washes his hands, arms and chest first in a tub of hot water, and then while he scrapes the grime off his face, Mrs. Evans rubs the coating of coal black from his back.

The contrast between the photos of the coal miner and the coquettish actress is but the beginning. The collection includes a Japanese laborers in a communal bath, a British prep school student braving a morning plunge in 35-degree water, an aging Mickey Mantle seeking relief for his injury-ravaged body after a baseball game, photojournalist Lee Miller taking an impudent bath in the apartment of Adolph Hitler, and a Tahitian woman recalling the paintings of Gauguin with her loll in the island waters.

Some of the most striking images in the collection are of soldiers. Some of these men clean themselves in washtubs, as did the weary coal miner. Some enjoy a communal soak in ancient Roman baths at Gafsa. One of the photos featuring soldiers in the most joyous in this collection, and also the most famous.

That picture features American soldiers cleansing themselves in the ocean on the island of Saipan in World War II. The battle, chronicled in harrowing detail by LIFE photographers Peter Stackpole and W. Eugene Smith, was a brutal one, resulting in the deaths of 29,000 troops and many more civilians. The context helps explain the emotion of this particular bath, as soldiers took advantage of a lull in the fighting to strip off their clothes and refresh themselves in the waters of the Pacific.

It is, in its way, the epitome of bathing, these men who have seen such horror finding momentary relief by submerging themselves in the revitalizing waters.

Jayne Mansfield combs her hair while bathing in the pink carpeted bathroom of her home, known as "The Pink Palace," in Los Angeles, 1960.

Jayne Mansfield combed her hair while bathing in the pink carpeted bathroom of her home, known as “The Pink Palace,” in Los Angeles, 1960.

Allan Grant; Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Coal miner Mabrey Evans scrubbed his arm in a tub of hot water in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, United States, April 1943.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A student at Winchester College, an English boys school, took a morning bath in a cold tub in a room that was 35 degrees; his technique was to grasp the edges of the tub, plunge in bottom-first, and get out as quickly as possible, 1951.

Cornell Capa/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Artist Pablo Picasso taking a bath at his Riviera villa. (Photo by David Douglas Duncan /The LIFE Images Collection)

Artist Pablo Picasso taking a bath at his Riviera villa.

Photo by David Douglas Duncan /The LIFE Images Collection

Bathing was a complicated process for 24-year-old schoolteacher Dorothy Albrecht in rural Montana; first she needed to haul water from a cistern 100 yards away from her cottage and heat in on the stove before climbing into the washtub, 1941.

Hansel Mieth/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Photographer Lee Miller in Adolf Hitler's bathtub, Munich, 1945.

Photographer Lee Miller took a bath in Adolph Hitler’s apartment soon after the apartment was discovered by Allied forces, 1945.

David E. Scherman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Writer Russell Finch enjoys a smoke, a bath and a TV show in 1948

Russell Finch, a writer, enjoyed the latest invention of the day, a portable television, while taking a bath, 1948.

George Skadding The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Tahitian girl bathing.

A girl in Tahiti, bathing, 1955.

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Basset Hound being bathed in back yard. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

A Basset Hound being bathed in the back yard.

Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Tokyo bath house, 1951.

Michael Rougier/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A nurse bathed two children, India, September 1957.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Bathing in halved oil drums, Amchitka Island, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Soldiers in their remote World War outpost of Amchitka Island, Alaska, bathed in halved oil drums, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Patients receive treatment on a hot baths spa, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Steve McQueen and his wife, Neile, take a sulphur bath at Big Sur, 1963.

Steve McQueen and wife, Neile, took a sulphur bath in Big Sur, 1963.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock


A woman used a new invention—a back brush equipped with front and rear-view mirrors so that she could see where she was scrubbing, 1947.

Allan Grant The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Jeanne Crain on the set of the 1946 movie Margie.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Actress Jeanne Crain balances a soap bubble on her index finger as she luxuriates in a bubble bath in a scene from the 1946 movie, Margie.

Actress Jeanne Crain balanced a soap bubble on her index finger as she luxuriated in a bath in a scene from the 1946 movie, Margie.

Peter Stackpole/ Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Aspiring actress Jo Ann Kemmerling read a book in the small tub that was set up in the kitchen of her small New York City apartment, 1953.

Nina Leen/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Soldiers in the Roman Baths at Gafsa in Tunisia, 1943.

Soldiers Swim in Roman Baths at Gafsa

Mickey Mantle soaking in whirlpool bathtub after game, 1964.

Mickey Mantle soaked in whirlpool bathtub after a game, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Blondie, the pet lion, revelled in the shower spray of lukewarm water her owner Charles Hipp is directing on her pelt, at home, 1955.

Joseph Scherschel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

British soldiers of the Dorsetshire County Regiment took hot baths, 1944.

Actress Peggy Knudsen took a seaweed bath to produce better circulation and skin tone, 1961.

Allan Grant/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A Bald Eagle's bath in 1949 California.

A Bald Eagle’s bath in California, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A photo from an essay on labor in Japan showed workers crowded in square cement bath, 1947.

John Florea/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Starlet June Preisser tried a milk bath—she didn’t like it—in preparing for a scene in the movie musical Strike Up the Band, 1940.

Peter Stackpole/LIfe Pictures/Shutterstock

American troops in the Pacific bathe during a lull in the fighting on the island of Saipan, 1944.

American troops in the Pacific bathed during a lull in the fighting on the island of Saipan, 1944.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

More Like This


Hey, Wanna Hot Dog?


The Dawn of Rock: America Finds Its Thrill


Heartland Cool: Teenage Boys in Iowa, 1945


LIFE Said This Invention Would “Annihilate Time and Space”


A Boat with “Live Ballast” Required


The Hot Rod Life