Monday – Wash Day
First let me go and give my washer and dryer a hug…
During the 19th and the early part of the 20th century Monday was known as washday or Blue Monday. Without the benefit of a washing machine, running water, hot water and ‘stain lifters’, this meant time consuming duties such as lugging and boiling the water for the wash and making your own starch and bluing for whiter whites and sometimes even your own soap! Laundry day was an all day chore!
Even Isabella Beeton in her Household Managment book circa 1861 for English housewives lists the duties for doing laundry as those of the ‘laundry-maid’ not the housewife.
For American housewives Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe call laundry "the most trying part of domestic labor" in their treatise Principles of Domestic Science
BUT! The goal of this website is not to bemoan the past but decipher what we can learn from it. You know in the happy homemaking sense. I detest laundry myself but after much reading I have come to realize that I need to be very thankful for the improvements that have been made in this domestic exercise and look for what I can learn from this.
Victorian Era -
Now before reading through a typical wash day from the victorian era be advised that this example was from a household that had hired help or a maid. It was unthinkable for a genteel woman of this era to do such menial work. You can get a good glimpse of what laundry was like in the 1900’s by viewing 1900 House . Check your local library. Read on…
The laundry-maid should commence her labours on Monday morning by a careful examination of the articles committed to her care, and enter them in the washing-book; separating the white linen and collars, sheets and body-linen, into one heap, fine muslins into another, coloured cotton and linen fabrics into a third, woollens into a fourth, and the coarser kitchen and other greasy cloths into a fifth.
Every article should be examined for ink- or grease-spots, or for fruit- or wine-stains. Ink-spots are removed by dipping the part into hot water, and then spreading it smoothly on the hand or on the back of a spoon, pouring a few drops of oxalic acid or salts of sorel over the ink-spot, rubbing and rinsing it in cold water till removed; grease-spots, by rubbing over with yellow soap, and rinsing in hot water; fruit- and wine-spots, by dipping in a solution of sal ammonia or spirits of wine, and rinsing.
Every article having been examined and assorted, the sheets and fine linen should be placed in one of the tubs and just covered with lukewarm water, in which a little soda has been dissolved and mixed, and left there to soak till the morning. The greasy cloths and dirtier things should be laid to soak in another tub, in a liquor composed of 1/2 lb. of unslaked lime to every 6 quarts of water which has been boiled for two hours, then left to settle, and strained off when clear. Each article should be rinsed in this liquor to wet it thoroughly, and left to soak till the morning, just covered by it when the things are pressed together. Coppers and boilers should now be filled, and the fires laid ready to light.
Early on the following morning the fires should be lighted, and as soon as hot water can be procured, washing commenced; the sheets and body-linen being wanted to whiten in the morning, should be taken first; each article being removed in succession from the lye in which it has been soaking, rinsed, rubbed, and wrung, and laid aside until the tub is empty, when the foul water is drawn off. The tub should be again filled with luke-warm water, about 80?, in which the articles should again be plunged, and each gone over carefully with soap, and rubbed. Novices in the art sometimes rub the linen against the skin; more experienced washerwomen rub one linen surface against the other, which saves their hands, and enables them to continue their labour much longer, besides economizing time, two parts being thus cleaned at once.
After this first washing, the linen should be put into a second water as hot as the hand can bear, and again rubbed over in every part, examining every part for spots not yet moved, which require to be again soaped over and rubbed till thoroughly clean; then rinsed and wrung, the larger and stronger articles by two of the women; the smaller and more delicate articles requiring gentler treatment.
In order to remove every particle of soap, and produce a good colour, they should now be placed, and boiled for about an hour and a half in the copper, in which soda, in the proportion of a teaspoonful to every two gallons of water, has been dissolved. Some very careful laundresses put the linen into a canvas bag to protect it from the scum and the sides of the copper. When taken out, it should again be rinsed, first in clean hot water, and then in abundance of cold water slightly tinged with fig-blue, and again wrung dry. It should now be removed from the washing-house and hung up to dry or spread out to bleach, if there are conveniences for it; and the earlier in the day this is done, the clearer and whiter will be the linen.