* Wash on Monday. Never hang clothes out on a weekend or Sunday, for Heaven's Sake! * Wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes; walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth around the line. * Hang the clothes in a certain order, whites with whites, and hang them first. * If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothes pins. * Never hang a shirt by its shoulders, always by the tails — what would the neighbors think! * Hang the socks by the toes, not the tops. * Hang pants by the cuffs, not the waistbands. Sometimes folks used pants stretchers that pressed in the creases. * Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your "unmentionables" in the middle. * It didn't matter if it was sub-zero weather — clothes would freeze dry. * Always gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes; pins left on the line were tacky. * Clothes off the line before dinnertime, neatly folded in the clothes basket, ready to be ironed. * IRONED? Well, that's a whole other story!
This list of rules was pretty much what we followed back in the 30s and 40s, long before the present day of clothes washers and dryers. On the farm north of town, this pretty much comprised my mother's washday: The night before we brought in the big copper boiler and set it on the cook stove that burned coal and wood. Someone had to keep the fuel at hand from the woodshed. It was my job to walk out to the well house where the windmill pumped the water into a tank, and carry in bucket after bucket to fill the boiler. There it would heat overnight until we got a roaring fire going in the morning to make it very hot.
Mom shaved up the P & G laundry soap bars into a pan of water to heat on the stove to make the liquid soap. Dad pulled in from the back room the old washing machine with a gasoline engine which, when started up, smelled awful. We transferred hot water to the machine, and of course needed more water for the two rinse tubs which sat on wash benches. Clothes were sorted into white, colored, and “very dirty” piles, and washed by load. After sloshing around in the soapy water, clothes were lifted by the wash stick and run through the wringer to squeeze out the water. Wringers were treacherous things — watch your fingers — and then the clothes went into a clean basket. From there, we hauled them to the outside lines and hung them to dry.
Water from the washer was maybe used to clean chamber pots (we had no bathrooms in those days), or a bucket of water was taken to the outdoor biffy to scrub the seats. Rinse water was used for scrubbing floors, on house plants or nearby shrubs — none of it was wasted. The machine and tubs went off to their respective storage places.
Yes, in winter the clothes “freeze dried” and were brought inside, stiff as a board, and laid on the wooden clothes racks near the parlor heater. When dry, clothes were folded and put away, or “sprinkled” for ironing. Certain clothes had to be starched to make them look nice after being ironed, and this required a whole other procedure — cooking up starch to the proper consistency, saturating the article in the starch, and again running it through the wringer.
I haven't mentioned clothes that were stained or extra soiled — those perhaps required pre-treatment of scrubbing on the scrub board with the soapy liquid, and of course bleach was used in the rinse for the whites. One can see where this was an all-day affair to say nothing of the ironing. I began my training on handkerchiefs — my dad used countless hankies, and my mother had dozens of colorful ones — this being in the days before Kleenex tissues.
You may be aware — we truly have it made with running water at our taps, hot water heaters, automatic washers and dryers. I well remember when “perma-press” came out — wow — clothes that needed no ironing! We can truly count our blessings.
In the adjacent photos, you will see items on display in the Washer Woman's Nightmare, or whatever you might call it, at the History Hall next to the Washburn/Zittleman historic home museum. Also to be seen: gasoline irons with attached tanks for white gas which was pressurized, irons lit, and you were working with an open flame below your hand! View early washing machines, scrub boards, sock stretchers, wringers, sad irons, clothes baskets, pin bags and much more. The museums are open daily, admission is charged, and guided tours are an advantage.