Thursday, November 30, 2006

Washing Clothes in 1920's and 30's.


Monday was "Wash Day" in my childhood in the late 1920's and early thirties. Wash Day was a long day. The family's clothes were washed weekly in large galvinized tin tubs. Soapy hot water was prepared in one tub, and rinse water in two other tubs. A rub board was put in the wash tub, and clothes were scrubbed on the rub board.

A big iron pot was set up on bricks out in the back yard, and a fire was built under the cast iron pot to heat the water and to "boil the clothes." This was done winter and summer every week. Talk about a hard day's work!


The clean clothes were pinned with clothespins to a long wire or rope clothesline to hopefully , dry in the sun. On cold winter days, one's wet hands would turn purple before all the clothes were hung up to dry.

Sometimes the clothes would freeze as fast as they were pinned to the line. Hopefully the sun and wind would dry the laundered clothes enough to be brought inside before dark.

Tuesday was ironing day. The clothes that had been washed, dipped in starch, and
dried on an outdoor clothesline had to be brought inside, sprinkled with water, folded up tightly in a sheet or pillow case to get slightly damp through and through so as to iron smoothly. The clothes were taken out a piece at a time to be ironed and hung up or ironed and folded. This was at least one other long day of exhausting work. We did have electric irons (heavy irons) in my childhood.

The earlier non electric irons were very heavy and made of “iron” and were heated on a stove or at a fireplace . I never used one of those, and I do not remember seeing my mother or sisters or anyone who helped us with the ironing use a non-electric iron. ( I do have a small collections of Flat Irons , like the ones in the picture on the left, on the hearth of my Fireplace.)

HOW TO WASH CLOTHES (Following is the "recipe for washing Clothes" by an early American grandmother to new bride. Despite the spelling, it has a bit of philosophy. This is an exact copy as written and found in an old scrap book.)

"Build fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water. Set tubs so smoke wont blow in eyes if wind is pert. Shave one hole cake of lie soap in boilin water. Sort things, make 3 piles
1 pile white,1 pile colored,1 pile work britches and rags. To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with boiling water.Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard, and boil, then Rub colored don't boil just wrench and starch.Take things out of kettle with broom stick handle, then wrench, and starch. Hang old rags on fence.Spread tea towels on grass. Pore wrench water in flower bed. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.Turn tubs upside down. Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.

7 comments:

Carol said...

Very cool! You are such a writer and can even make LAUNDRY an interesting topic!

janice said...

I remember wash day and everybody gathered in the back yard there in Milstead -- stirring the laundry with a broomstick. I also remember when hogs were killed and dressed back there. I remember once daddy sent me upstairs to get something and I found a toy snake in the toolbox (or wherever he had sent me). I opened a window and dropped it down on the men below. I well remember the scolding and spanking that I got for that practical joke! Which certainly was NOT earned because any tendency I had toward jokes like that definitely came from the Shaw brothers who were master models at practical joking!!

Ruth said...

How dare they? Shame of them for not laughing at the joke rather than scolding you. Did your Dad or me really spank you fo that?

euro tailors said...

Great blog, it was very interesting!Thanks!

Annie said...

Thank you for this story Ruth. I am putting together the stories of the elders that I work for to share with the local (primary)elementary school. One of the first books for the children will be on washing in the past. How different they will find the process! Glad you are blogging these stories.

Anonymous said...

i have two of these irons one with a seven on it and the other a star. does anyone know what they are worth? they are the flat ones with the handles. thanks

Karen said...

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this description of laundry day. I am writing a novel set in the 1920s and was puzzling over how long it would have taken women to wash the clothes for their family. Thank you for sharing your memories!