“Wash on Monday…”

Farm women hanging laundry in 1917
Hilda (left) and another hired woman hanging laundry in the Big House yard, with Bob, the dog, for company. Circa 1917.

Now that good weather is finally here, I should be hanging my laundry outside, to get that fresh and sunny scent, save on energy, and get the exercise. But recent improvements to my house have placed a washer-drier conveniently in the kitchen, and it’s too easy just to throw all the wet stuff in the drier and push a button. Before, the only danger to outside drying was in mulberry season —then I was lucky not to get a big purple splash on a favorite blouse.
When I grew up on the farm my mom, in the Little House, used an old Maytag in the cellar, bluing and everything; and on wet days the wash was strung all over the downstairs and slapped you in the face as you threaded your way among all the hanging sheets and towels and underslips and the various quaint clothing of the thirties. All the windows were steamy and we drew pictures on them with our fingers.
Washday over at the Big House was spectacular —water heated on the stove, the big washing machine and wringer, the scrub boards now seen only in museums, loads of huge copper rinse tubs, and overalls, long johns, white coats for barn and milkhouse, sheets for all the hired men, work towels and rags —a much more formidable wash than ours. A spectacle, but Grama said we were no help, to “get out of the way!” Winter days the farm wash hung in the basement where the fat furnace with octopus tentacles provided billowy heat, all other seasons it was hung outside to dry in the Wisconsin air.
I’m glad I live in a modest economic section of Springfield where there is no law against laundry display. Homeowner’s associations with such prohibitions seem unnecessary —who cares that your scanties are on view, if other families’ are, too? And hanging up clothes can make for friendly talk across the fence with your neighbor hanging theirs –although we can’t count on Mondays anymore.

2 thoughts on ““Wash on Monday…””

  1. Jackie, you post brought back a memory from 1953, when I was 9 1/2. We lived across from the church and down the block from the school, and after daily Mass I had permission to cut out of the line of classmates and duck into the house for breakfast. The memory is of my hanging out the back door talking to my mother, who was hanging our laundry, on a perfect spring morning. And it was the year that President Eisenhower appointed my dad postmaster of Waunakee, Wis., so it was a happy time. I remember the ringer washer too, and despite all the jokes, I don’t remember Mom ever having an accident with it, just having clothes get wrapped around it and having to find an end, which was hard to do when everything was soaking wet.

  2. Your story reminded me of wash days at our house in Alton, IL in the late thirties and forties. We had a basement washer in the old apartment kitchen that my mom used. A friend of my mother, Mrs. Leighty, who lived out in the country and had to rely on a well, brought her laundry in and they did theirs together having a wonderful compatible time.

    There was an old stove downstairs that connected to the water heater that heated the wash water and the washer and two rinse laundry tubs. On rainy days they hung wet clothes all over the old apartment. On sunny days they took the wet clothes outside where Dad had put up the clothes lines anchored to trees, posts, etc. Upstairs vegetable soup was simmering for lunch.

    They also ironed in the basement on an ironer and with the usual board and electric iron.

    It was a wonderful companionable day. When I was a little child I shared it with them.

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