This photo of a couple of my ancestors came to mind after reading a recent article about laundering bedding.
The article told about the nasty bugs and germs that could live in your bedding if you don’t wash them regularly. It recommended laundering sheets and pillowcases at least every two weeks, the schedule I thankfully adhere to, the schedule passed down in my family. Good thing because I don’t like the idea of cozying up with bugs and germs at night. The article suggested the 1-2 week laundry schedule to the small percentage who wash their sheets and pillowcases seasonally or yearly. OK then…
Enough about people’s laundry habits, but the article made me think of the above old photo and the fact that laundry day has come a long way.
In the photo is my great-great-grandmother Emily Ellen (Bryan) Reid (1856-1940) and her daughter, who was also my great-grandmother, Pearl Selina (Reid) Brewster (1880-1962). I do not know when the photo was taken or who is who in the photo. That type of clothing wringer dates to the 1890s and early 1900s but the women’s clothing looks more recent than that. Both Emily and Pearl would have been adults and perhaps Pearl’s daughter, also my grandmother, Gertrude (Brewster) Miller (1896-1973) is in the photo, too.
There are several other people in the photo. Maybe the woman on the left is washing and the woman on the right is rinsing, using the tub with the wringer? Or was this something more than an ordinary wash day? Perhaps there was something else going on. A family or community project? Bleaching or dying fabric?
And why take a photo of women doing laundry? Did someone get a new camera? Or did the women get a new household gadget? The wringers? Too many unanswered questions…
The women were using a very old-fashioned laundry method, laundry tubs, one of them wooden, and wringers. Although I do not see a washboard in the photo, they probably had a washboard similar to this:
These basic items eventually evolved into wringer washing machines. I vaguely remember that my Grandma Miller had a wringer washer, located in what they called the utility room. I once had a cute pink toy wringer washer. The little wringers and the agitator moved with little cranks. It was a fun little toy.
There is an old nursery rhyme that goes, wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, bake on Wednesday, brew on Thursday, churn on Friday, men on Saturday, meeting on Sunday.
Growing up, one of my household chores was ironing. It wasn’t really a bad job. I would set up the ironing board in front of the TV, which made the task go quicker. Grandma Miller ironed in front of the TV, too. If I didn’t finish all the ironing I would dampen the remaining items, roll them up, put them in a plastic bag, and put the bag in the refrigerator. Clothes actually seemed easier to iron after marinating in the refrigerator overnight.
I have heard that some people used to iron their sheets, probably before the days of permanent-press fabric. That seems like a whole lot of extra work and we never did that. But sheets probably look very nice if they are ironed and a hot iron would certainly kill the little bugs and germs.
When I grew up we didn’t always have a washing machine but we did have a dryer. My mom would stop at the laundromat in Willshire after work on Mondays and would bring the wet clothes home and dry them in the dryer. Eventually we got washing machine.
Now, in my dryer I use six dryer balls instead of using fabric softener. Invariably a couple of the balls fall out of the dryer when I take the clothes out. They bounce and go rolling down the floor and I think that a dog would really enjoy chasing the balls on laundry day. Instead, I chase after the balls myself.
Thinking of that old nursery rhyme, I wonder about Thursday’s chore…