A WOMAN’S WORK IS NEVER DONE . . .
I’m not sure where that saying came from, but it certainly held true during the 1800s.
As a Civil War Re-enactor, one of my impressions is that of an army laundress. After researching the everyday lives – and chores – of women during that era, I had new-found respect for them. And for my washing machine.
Here are a few interesting facts:
• Laundry was MORE than a one day event. The first day was soaking, the second washing, the third (if the clothes had dried sufficiently) starching and ironing.
• Water – which had to be either drawn from a well or carried from a creek – consisted of approximately 50 gallons for one boiling, one washing, and one rinsing. However, three rinses were common.(Oh, Lord, more water!)
• Soap was either made (which would take another page to explain) or bought – @ .25 per pound! That figures out about $3.75 per pound today. (Outrageous!) Then you still had to shave it into slivers so the soap would dissolve in the water.
• Chlorine bleach was not widely available yet (And who knows what it would have cost). Instead, the women used Bluing, made from plant additives, mostly indigo. During the Civil War, bluing came in powder or solid cubes. A blue-bag was made from double layer flannel. Once the bluing was tied inside, the bag was dunked into the final rinse. There were two more ways of whitening your whites, one common, one gross. 1)The fabric could be placed in the sunshine. 2)Ammonia was also used. The women got this from urine. (YUCK! Now you need to wash everything again!)
• Clothes were dried by hanging on lines or spreading flat on the ground. (Kind of defeats the purpose)
• Next came ironing. Irons were made from cast iron and were heated over a fire. Some irons had wooden handles, some had iron handles, for which you had to use a hotpad. The irons were called Sad irons. This word meant heavy (although I imagine the women were sad because of all the work). Irons weighed from 4 to 12 pounds. A 6 pound iron took 1 1⁄2 hours to heat, so obviously more than one iron was heated at once (Too many irons in the fire).
• Starch was applied to make clothes easier to iron, and it kept the dirt from being ground into the fibers. Store-bought starch was available around 1847 and was made from corn. The cost was about .20 per pound – $3.00 per pound today! Women could make their own potato-starch at home. Store-bought potato based starch wasn’t available until around 1874. A candle was melted into the starch because the wax would make the iron slide over the fabric.
• After ironing, the clothes were folded and put on shelves or hung on pegs (unless you were rich and owned an armoire).
• WHEW! Finally finished. Now the woman only had to milk the cow, bake the breads, work the fields and take care of ten +/- children.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go hug my appliances! Thanks for visiting.