Laundry


Figure 1.--The family laundry for mothers even after the turn of the century presented an enormous workload. Often an entire day each week was devoted to washing clothes. In a large family, the girls might have to stay home from schhol.

Today we give little attention to washing clothes. It is also so simple with modern blended easy to care for fabrics, washing machines, and an array of detrgents, bleaches, fabric softners and much more. Often teenagers, including boys are now involved with washing clothes. This was not always the case. The family laundry used to be an arduous, back breaking effort perforned only by mothers and daughters. It is thus understandable that children once wore their clothes longer than is the case today and why so much care was taken to protect clothes.

Laundry

Today we give little attention to washing clothes. It is also so simple with modern blended easy to care for fabrics, washing machines, and an array of detrgents, bleaches, fabric softners and much more. You go to the store now and there are many different brands including a wide variety of laundry products. There are detergents with and without bleach, with scents, not phosphate poluting brands. Then there arebleaches, fabric softners, and much more. They come in liquids and powders as well as a vast array of packages and bottles. And array of modern chemists is now behind the housewife. On addition, modern washing machines and dryers have taken most of the physical laboor and drugery out of laundry.

It is hard to believe that as recently as the turn of the 20th century, housewives did not even have laundry detergent, but a variety of harsh, not very effective was powdwers. The weekly laundry was an almost unimaginable drugery. Few houses had running hot water and vast quantities of clothes had to be agitated and scrubbed by hand. The process varied from house to house. Typically a range might be used to boil water. Cloths would be dropped into the pots on the range and stirred with a wooden stick. Therewould also be a pot with a boiling starch mixture for collars and in well to do homes--dinner shirts. Then the clothes had to be put out on the line to dry. The final step was ironing. There were no electric irons. Th eiroins had to be heated and rehaeated on tthe range. Before beginning, the iron had to be coated with beeswax. Added to the dimensions of the problem was the larger amont of heavy garments, including under garments that were washed at the time. A mother with a large families, and families at the time were much larger than is the case today, had an enormous job every week--usually it was monday that she would attack the huge pile of dirty clothes.

Early Washing Prodycts

Early washing products like Lux detergent were a wonderful improvement on early laundry products. It is hard for modern readers to understand what these products and washing machines meant for the lives of the modern woman.

Gender

Often teenagers, including boys are now involved with washing clothes. This was not always the case. The family laundry used to be an arduous, back breaking effort perforned only by mothers and daughters. The role of daughters at the time was seen to support their mothers. Thus if they were still in school, they might stay home and help with the laundry on monday, obviously affecting their studies. Boys on the other hand would rarely be asked to do so. The laundry was seen as women's work.

Impact on Clothes

Clothing Styles

The elaborate clothes worn by adults and children of the rising class of Europeans and Americans befefiting by the new industrial society were an important status symbol. Clearly not everyone could afford the clothes or the care of then. To dress her family well, a mother needed hired help with both the laundry and often sewing of the garments. The movement toward casual clothing after World War I (1914-18) was not just a random development. It had been necessary to free up labor for the war effort. After the War, women had no desire to go back to the old elaborate garments. In addition, people enjoyed the more comforable casual styles. As more and more women entered the work force, the trend toward casual sdtyles became iresistable.

Protective Garments

It is thus understandable that children once wore their clothes longer than is the case today and why so much care was taken to protect clothes. This is one of the reason that children so often are pictured in pinafores and smocks. Anything a weary mother with several children could think of to reduce the work load she would do. Smocks and pinafores were commonly used by girls througout Europe and America. Protective clothing for boys was much more varied, but in many countries such as France and Italy, smocks were very commonly worn by both boys and girls.

1900 House

A British TV program very effectively records the huge amount of work presented by the family laundry at the turn of the century. A family had to live 3 months n a home restored to 1900 condition and equipped only with household products that would have been in a 1900 home. In this case in created an enormous strain on the modetn mother who had to cope with the washing technology of the day.








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Created: June 4, 2001
Last updated: March 4, 2004