A Laundry Day Photo

This photo of a couple of my ancestors came to mind after reading a recent article about laundering bedding.

Emily (Bryan) Reid & Pearl (Reid) Brewster

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:

Washboard and tub.

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.

Gertrude (Brewster) Miller ironing.

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…


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    • Kenny Miller on December 3, 2021 at 7:32 am
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    I remember mom using a washboard on the back porch. I thought all the little bubbles were very colorful. She also had a wringer and then would hang everything out on the clothesline. I’m sure they used the cistern water which was pumped by hand and then heated on the coal burner kitchen stove. I wonder if she had a special wash tub or used the same one us kids used for Saturday baths.

    1. Thanks for the family memories! It would be interesting to know if she had more than one tub! Thanks for writing.

    • Geri (Tindall) Ainsworth on December 3, 2021 at 7:46 am
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    Hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving, Karen. I enjoyed your sharing of the day laundry social gathering event. I imagine great stories and family tips were shared. Wonderful family tradition stories are always fun to hear and share. When I first married, I ironed my sheets and pillowcases. I felt comforted sleeping alone in a “wedding” bed meant for two! It all started as a ritual when my husband rented an apartment one month before we were married. He was in college when his Air National Guard unit was immediately activated after a reconnaissance military ship, the Pueblo, was captured by N. Korea during the Viet Nam War. He abruptly left after 48 hours of marriage for a year. So out of loneliness, I began that ritual of honoring our union as a 19 year old bride. He was gone for 1 year. I still wash my sheets every week and now only iron my pillow cases. I still miss hanging our laundry on a clothes line outside in a clean breeze and reaping a basket of fresh smelling laundry. Nothing like it. Doing laundry back in the day was definitely, a two fold service project. Thanks for the picture and history lesson.

    1. What a touching story and thank you for sharing it. Such nice memories. Great to hear from you and thank you for writing!

    • Kelly J Lugabihl on December 10, 2021 at 2:48 pm
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    The picture of Grandma Miller and this post both bring back memories. I do not remember the homestead before there was a washer and dryer, but I do remember having a tub on legs next to the washing machine that the wash water would drain into and then would get reused for the next load of clothes. It had a specific name but for the life of me I can’t recall it. I also remember that Aunt Em would iron her sheets, and that was one of my chores when I lived there. It definitely wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, and I can remember having a scar on my forearm from where I tried to iron my arm rather than the sheet! I can’t imagine how tough that would be with king sized sheets now.
    Hope you are doing well. Merry Christmas.

    1. Yes, these old photos do bring back memories. I never ironed sheets and, from what you tell, it sounds rather dangerous. Ouch! I had a heat-related scar on my leg for years. I was helping make fried chicken gravy in a cast iron skillet on Grandma’s stove when I was about 8 or 10. I was stirring too vigorously and splattered the hot greasy gravy onto my leg. It blistered and and left a scar for years. Heat incidents must be a Miller hazard! Great to hear from you and Merry Christmas!

    • kathleen Lutz on December 23, 2021 at 12:26 am
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    Doing my laundry by hand here in Kenya. Washing machines are rare and just being introduced. My sheets aren’t washed so often, as you can imagine. My mother liked her ringer washer.

    1. How wonderful to hear from you and to know that you arrived back in Kenya safely. I take for granted many of the conveniences we have here in the U.S. Doing laundry by hand would take a lot of time and work compared to throwing clothes in a washer and dryer. Thanks for writing and have a Merry Christmas!

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