Laundry in the 1850s

Welcome to wonderful world of hard, manual labour, unsafe work conditions, and endless drudgery!

Okay, it wasn’t as bad as it could be, but it certainly wasn’t any fun.

First of all, here are the links I used:

So basically, you soak the clothes in warm water first (tub 1), then move it to a second tub where you would mix it with soap, often homemade lye, and boiling hot water, and mix it with a paddle (called a battle, probably because that’s what you felt like you’d been through after a few hours) to get the clothing thoroughly mixed with the soap. Once the water cooled down enough, you would then plop in the washboard and scrub each piece of clothing until it seemed clean. If you didn’t have a washboard, you lucky person, you got to rub the clothing between your fists. Oh, and of course you would start with your whites, then the colours, then the dark stuff; for this level of work, the last thing you would want to do was have the colours run and ruin your whites.

Big skirts can hide a lot of brandy.

A third tub (!!!) would be used to rinse the soap out in cool water, after which you hung the clothes up on a clothesline and had a stiff drink. Lots of tubs being used, and I should mention that up until the late 1800s, galvanized tubs weren’t mainstreamed in the United States (after the time period of my story), so cast iron cauldrons, kettles, and wooden tubs would have been used. Wooden tubs constantly being soaked in water wasn’t good for the tubs, so you had to be constantly checking them for damage. My source said that brandy barrels were often cut in half for these tubs; I for one, would have made sure to keep some of that brandy nearby. Just for emergencies.

I’ve skipped a bit of the things, such as bluing and ironing as they didn’t come up in my story. My main character is lucky. She has magic (she’s a water witch) and an inventive mind. She’s repurposed a waterwheel to bring in water to the laundry area when she needs it (saving hours of hauling water), the water itself wants to do her bidding (saving more time scrubbing) and boiling water doesn’t burn her. Oh, and super fun, she spends the winter weaving big loose mats, which she uses to line a slatted box under the water wheel; soapy clothes go in the box and are rinsed free of soap.

Real laundry at the time was drudgery; hell, it still is in a lot of places. When I think of Charlie’s mom, I have strong feels now.

At least there will be chocolate later.


One thought on “Laundry in the 1850s

  1. x934z says:

    You posted it! You posted it!

    Monday as laundry day was the most dreaded day of the week, wasn’t it, iirc?

    It’s a perfect example of the class division of the “women are weak feeble/delicate creatures” line men use about women, too. It’s just one example of the grinding physical labour women below a level to have servants (other women of course) did all the time, and still do around the world in various forms.

    … I think I’m making a comment that belongs on another blog. I blame a certain comrade. 😛

    I love your main character repurposing a water wheel! The wheel is such a great piece of technology (my ancestors were millers, yay) and to turn it into a washing machine – brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

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