Monday Wash Day by Stephanie Grace Whitson
Have you ever purchased a book that guarantees to help you “take control of your time and life,” “manage your household,” “get organized” or “conquer the messies"? If so, you are part of a long line of homemakers seeking answers and experts offering to provide them. Remembering her own pioneer childhood, Laura Ingalls Wilder explained her mother’s household management system this way: “Each day had its own proper work. Ma used to say, wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday.” [from Little House in the Big Woods]
Assigning specific chores to specific days of the week is memorialized in countless tea towels embroidered over the years.
It can be difficult for us to understand why on earth an entire day was set aside for things we accomplish in minutes. I do laundry as an afterthought. I walk by the washer/dryer on my way to work in my home office. If there’s a load ready, I start it. As I walk by later on my way to get coffee or lunch, I transfer to the dryer and move on. Later in the day, I fold and put away. I never thought to be thankful for the orange/blue/white jugs of laundry soap perched atop the machine that saves me from staging something like the set-up at right once a week. But since I began writing about 19th century women, that has changed.
First, there was the set-up. “The list of utensils for the laundry includes wash boiler, wringer, washboard, washing machine, three or four tubs, two or three pails, clothes stick, dipper, and large and small clothes baskets.” Soaking overnight or for at least a few hours was recommended “to soften the dirt and loosen it by swelling the fabric.” “Rubbing” was recommended for neck, wristbands, “and other spots which are especially soiled or greasy.” Next came boiling (a first boiling and a second boiling were considered ideal), then rinsing. “It is customary to lift the clothes from the boiler directly into a tub of cold rinsing water, rinse thoroughly, wring out into a second rinsing water, and continue rinsing until all trace of soap disappears.” “After the final rinsing … articles must be wrung out, rolled in bundles, and sorted, starched pieces being placed in one basket and unstarched ones in another, and hung up to dry at once.”
Oh, wait … starch and bluing and soap. Many women made their own. Here’s a recipe for soap found in Alice Kirk Grierson’s recipe book. Mrs. Grierson’s husband served in the Tenth Cavalry in the West between 1866 and 1888.
Fry out fourteen pounds of grease; to this add ten pounds potash dissolved in just boiling water enough to cover the lumps. In two or three days pour the mixture several pailfuls of boiling water (Be careful to use boiling water, as that cooks it). Keep on adding water as fast as the soap thickens until your barrel is full of nice, sweet soap. It must be stirred hard every time the water is put into the barrel until it is entirely mixed.
Is it any wonder women were thrilled when they could buy commercially produced soap?
A “Plan for Wash Day” published in 1908 recommended that a woman “get up at daylight and get the washing out of the way as early as possible. It is surprising how much can be accomplished early in the morning before the regular routing of the day begins.” (It’s also surprising how tired I feel just having read about doing the laundry in the “good old days.”)
In the early 1900s, a farm wife named Nellie Jones wrote, “I wish it could be burnt into the consciousness of every man and every woman that washing under average farm conditions is a man’s work, not a woman’s, measured by expenditure of strength.” I think Nellie would have loved this humorous photo produced in 1901 in response to the suffrage movement.
Best-selling, award-winning author Stephanie Grace Whitson has been writing Christian fiction since 1994, when she signed her first contract with Thomas Nelson Publishers. Since then, she's added a couple dozen titles to her list of published books, received her MA in Historical Studies from Nebraska Wesleyan University, and become a grandmother. She is a frequent guest speaker/lecturer on a variety of historical and inspirational topics for both civic organizations and church groups. Her husband and blended family, her church, historical research, antique quilts, and Kitty—her motorcycle—all rank high on her list of “favorite things.” To learn more, visit www.stephaniewhitson.com or www.Facebook.com/stephaniegracewhitson.
We're celebrating our new look with prizes to our faithful readers. Entering is simple. Just comment on this post and you will be entered to win one of MANY books and prizes--including a $50 Amazon gift card. I'm donating a copy of A Patchwork Christmas. Prizes will be awarded at the end of September, and you can enter every day. Have fun!
Yikes! That does not sound like fun; doing the laundry back any earlier than the 1950's--60's!! Thank you Lord for washing machines, dryers, Tide, Era, and Downy fabric softener!ReplyDelete
Doesn't it boggle your mind that soap to clean clothing can be made from potash and grease! It's kind of like manure being used for fertilizer. Though I love reading about the 19th century times, I'm glad I'm not living in them. Just think of having to do all of that in the middle of winter. Interesting post!ReplyDelete
The ingredients for home made soap have always amazed me. My mother used to make lye soap ... I am so spoiled.Delete
Thank you for a great post! We have it really well don't we?ReplyDelete
mauback55 at gmail dot com
One of the things I love about studying the past is that it gives me perspective on my own trials. Live can still be very difficult ... but I so appreciate not having to strain toads out of my well water before I make coffee every morning LOL.Delete
I think we take for granted modern technology. I use to wash clothes by hand when I visited my in-laws but they recently bought a washer/ dryer.ReplyDelete
I remember the sores and redness from just washing a few items.
Thanks for posting!
You bring up a great point about those pioneer women's HANDS. Oh, my ... no wonder they wore gloves! They probably wanted to cover the results of all that hard work.Delete
I love when my grandma tells me about how they used to do laundry with the hand crank in their basement. It makes me appreciate modern technology!ReplyDelete
We didn't have a hand-crank, but my first washing machine memories are of the tub with the electric wringer. And my Mother did use a wash board for spot treating ... with her home made lye soap. Oh, boy.Delete
My hands feel sore and chapped just thinking about doing laundry like that.ReplyDelete
Would love to read this book. email@example.comReplyDelete
We still make our own laundry soap! Women are spoiled today with all the modern conveniences!!!ReplyDelete
Some of the young mothers I know are doing the same thing ... making their own cleaning products. What goes around comes around!Delete
I'm so glad I didn't live in that time period. I wonder how many great books were never written because those poor women didn't have a chance to sit down! And that was just the laundry. I think I'll go to bed now and thank God for washing machines. Great post Steph.ReplyDelete
It amazes me that many of those women did take time to keep diaries ... where on earth did they find the energy after a day of hard work like that.Delete
Clothes must have been pretty sturdy to be able to withstand that kind of cleaning process. I am grateful that laundry is so much easier now!ReplyDelete
Good point, Linda. I remember trying to treat a spot with lye soap once and the soap ate the fabric!Delete
Grease soap! I would love to win A Patchwork Christmas! Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]netReplyDelete
What an interesting post! I am very thankful for the conveniences we enjoy!ReplyDelete
texaggs2000 at gmail dot com
Yes Stephanie. I remember those days helping my mother on wash days. Was pretty much a full day's work. Only she didn't have a wringer for many years so that was a hard job wring clothes by hand. My little brother and I stomped the clothes in a washtub to help loosen the dirt. Then there came all of the things you mentioned. And, after the clothes were dry we gathered them in and the ones to be ironed were sprinkled and rolled up in a basket and covered to be ready to iron later. Was a very hard job and this was in the early 1930's, and had been going on many years before I was born in 1935. Later after I was married at 16, I used to do laundry a lot in my bathtub for couldn't always go to a laundrymat. Most hated was men's pants. So hard to wring by hand. And, by the way my mother got married at 15 so she did this many years.And, raised 8 children.I took most of my learning from my mother's example, but was never brave enough to use the bluing, tho I knew it never made her clothes blue. That is still a puzzle to me, how we put them clothes in that real blue water and it never turned them blue. LOL makes them whiter. Hope I can win some of these great prizes. By the way, the top picture of the woman washing in the tub sure reminds me of my mother. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <ReplyDelete
Hand woven towels...wow. We have it so easy! truckredford(at)gmail dot comReplyDelete