Don’t you just love Western historical romance? We love the heroes and heroines and how they dressed. We also love reading tidbits about how they lived, their customs of the day, social events, and the simplicity of the time. But there’s one thing most historical authors only touch upon in their novels. Probably because if they went into great detail, it would take up far more words than they want and slow down their story. I’m talking about laundry.
Back in the day doing the laundry wasn’t a matter of tossing your clothes into a washing machine, putting in some detergent, closing the lid, and pushing a button. It was a much more arduous task, one that could take 2 to 3 days depending on the size of one’s family.
We’ve come a long way since the twin tub and the drum washing machine. But before them, of course, was the simple washtub. Before hot and cold running water you had to haul water from a nearby well, creek, or river. To get the job done in a timely manner, you had to enlist the help of everyone in the family to fetch and carry bucket after bucket, because you needed water for both washing and rinsing. Then you had to heat the wash water in an iron kettle or a large metal washtub. This took time and somebody had to tend the fire. While that was going on someone else sorted the clothes into whites, colors, and that special pile of the extremely dirty. You washed the clothes in that order. White’s first of course. Who wants to wash their whites in disgusting dirty laundry water?
Once put into the hot water, someone had to stir the clothes with a long stick then remove and scrub them on a
washboard with homemade soap. This could take up quite a bit of time in and of itself. For those unlucky enough not to have a washboard, a good-sized rock was the answer.
Washboards were placed vertically in the washtub after the clothes were removed from the tub and set aside. Then one at a time, each piece of clothing was rubbed briskly on the metal ridges and plunged back into the water regularly. When the water became too dirty they had to heat another batch. Then they rinsed their clothes in cold water to remove the soap, rung the clothes out by hand or used a ringer if they had one. If not, they slapped each piece of clothing against a trusty rock. Then they hung them up to dry. For large families, is it any wonder this took so long? Aren’t you glad for your Maytag?
Though many of us enjoy our washers and dryers, there are also a lot of folks who like to line dry their clothes and bedding. I’m one of them. I love to dry clothes on the line in the summer and get that fresh air scent. What other conveniences are you happy we have now? Has anyone ever cooked on a cookstove? Have you ever used a tub washer? Did you grow up with one?
I’ll pick a random person from the comments below to receive a copy of my upcoming e-book, dear Mr. Tindle, which will be out on May 31.