Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

March 24, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:29 am



Monday has always been the most unpopular day of the week.  After a week-end of rest and relaxation, Monday is the dreaded back-to-work day for the majority of us.  To the older generation today, Monday is not such a bad day compared to the way it used to be prior to the invention of the electric washing machine.

Growing up in the 1940s it seems that Monday was typically the day the house wives washed all the family clothes, and it was a major undertaking.  I recall helping my grandmother, Mary Murphy, and on occasion my mother, Alice, with the day-long chore of washing and hanging the wet clothes on a clothes line to dry.

I recall the black iron washing pot conveniently placed by the well in my grandmother’s back yard.  It was necessarily close to the well because all the washing water was drawn from that well, bucket by bucket, and poured into the wash pot and two number 2 wash tubs.  The wash pot was placed on top of bricks so that kindling wood could be placed underneath it and set on fire so as to heat the water.  Hot water was necessary for proper cleansing of the khaki clothes and overalls.


A rub board and lye soap were a couple of other necessities, along with a bottle of liquid bluing, and a package of dry, white Faultless starch.  After the water in the wash pot was hot enough, a “load” of dirty clothes were placed in the water and stirred around with a wooden stick.  After soaking for a time, the rub board was set in the wash tub and the heavy clothes were rubbed against the board, along with the lye soap.


After the proper scrubbing process was completed, the clean clothes were then transferred from the wash pot into a tub of rinse water to soak.  They were then placed in a second wash tub with rinse water in which a small amount of “bluing” had been added.  The “bluing” made white clothes appear whiter, and the colored clothes looked brighter. Laundry bluing was made up of very fine blue iron powder suspended in water.  The bluing was not permanent and rinsed out over time leaving dingy or yellowed whites.


After a few minutes in the bluing water, the clothes were wrung out by hand and placed in a wicker basket to await hanging on the clothes line to dry.

After all the clothes completed this process, one final task was needed for select items of clothing, such as dress shirts and khakis, and that was to rinse them in a mixture of water and Faultless starch.  The starch added firmness to the cloth which was desirable back then.

Now it was time to grab the cloth bag of clothes pins, and take the clean clothes out to the lines to be hung out to dry.  Drying clothes was at best a crap shoot due to sudden showers that could pop up.  Getting sun-dried clothes wet again was not a desirable event.  I can recall a number of times when I was sent out in the back yard to get the clothes off the line just ahead of a thunder shower.

Tuesday around our house was the day that the dried clothes were taken down from the line, some folded, and others that needed ironing were sprinkled with water, rolled up tightly and placed in the wicker basket to soak.

Wednesday was the day to iron the clean clothes.  This was a labor intensive chore because of the type irons that the housewives used.  They were solid “flat irons” that were placed on the wood stove after a fire had been built inside.  Two irons were heated, one used to iron while the other one was heating.  When the first iron cooled off, the other one would be hot and ready to use.  They were also quite heavy and would tire the arm of the users quickly.

I was excited when my mother bought an electric washing machine with a ringer in which to wash our clothes.  We still had the clothes lines and sun drying to contend with but the washing process was now so much easier and better for the clothes.

Now that most homes have as standard equipment an automatic washer and a clothes dryer, Monday is no longer considered a “wash clothes” day.  Wash pots, number 2 wash tubs, rub boards, lye soap, and bluing have now gone the way of the pay telephone – no longer needed.  However, taking a look back at how clothes washing used to be done should make one more appreciative of the modern conveniences we now have.  I now understand why my mother would get upset with me when I got my pants really dirty.  She knew what Monday would be like.



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