While preparing excerpts from Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery for my spring US history classes, I was struck by a detail from Washington’s depiction of his family’s plantation cabin–his description of the apparently-ubiquitous “cat-hole”:
“In addition to [“windows” and a door] there was, in the lower right-hand corner of the room, the “cat-hole,” – a contrivance which almost every mansion or cabin in Virginia possessed during the ante-bellum period. The “cat-hole” was a square opening, about seven by eight inches, provided for the purpose of letting the cat pass in and out of the house at will during the night. In the case of our particular cabin I could never understand the necessity for this convenience, since there were at least a half-dozen other places in the cabin that would have accommodated the cats.”
Of course, this is simply a variation on the familiar doggy-door. I just hadn’t come across the term “cat-hole” before. Now, it apparently means something quite different.