Dolly Parton on Growing up Without Bathroom Facilities: ‘We’d Go to the River’

Dolly Parton is the ultimate rags to riches story. She was born in the mountains of East Tennessee in a one-bedroom cabin with no electricity or running water. Today, she’s one of the biggest stars in the world. The “Jolene” singer has never been shy when it comes to talking about her childhood. But no one ever asked her about how she and her family managed without restroom facilities. Until her interview with Playboy Magazine in 1978.

Dolly Parton performs at Georgia Tech Coliseum, Atlanta.
Dolly Parton | Tom Hill/WireImage

Dolly Parton and her family used newspapers for toilet paper

Parton had an aunt who lived in Knoxville that would sometimes bring newspapers when she’d come to visit. Young Dolly and her family would use the newspaper as toilet paper.

“But before we used it, we’d look at the pictures,” she told the magazine, according to the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “And we’d hear about people who would get rich and you’d have all the food you wanted to eat and fancy clothes and houses. In our minds, there was so many of us, anybody that had a clean house was rich.”

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The first time Parton used a flush toilet was at that aunt’s home. She and her siblings didn’t know what to do with it.

“My aunt in Knoxville had a toilet in the bathroom and we were so fascinated,” she said. “We were afraid to use it. I just thought it was goin’ to suck us right down. She also had the first television we ever saw.”

How Dolly Parton and her siblings bathed

Parton and her siblings would wash themselves in a nearby river during the warmer months.

“That was like a big bath,” she said. “And we’d all go in swimming and we’d wash our hair, wash each other’s hair. Soap was just flowin’ down the river and we were so dirty we left a ring around the Little Pigeon River.”

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The Queen of Country noted that, while she and her siblings bathed, they kept the boys and girls separate.

“We were real modest as kids,” she said. “The boys would go swimmin’ naked and the girls, sometimes we would, but we didn’t go naked swimmin’ together. As soon as you started sproutin’ at all, you put on a shirt and you didn’t take it off. I never did see Momma and Daddy naked. I’m glad I didn’t.”

In the winter, when it was too cold to bathe in the river, Parton and her family used a pan of water inside.

“We just had a pan of water and we’d wash down as far as possible, and we’d wash up as far as possible,” she said. “Then, when somebody’d clear the room, we’d wash possible.”