This photo is from 1901, but things hadn’t changed much since the mid-19th century. (Public Domain)
This is a typical routine for doing laundry in the mid-19th century:
- Gather up and sort clothing and linens on Saturday, mending any that need it.
- On Sunday soak items in warm water with a little soap and soda or lye. Each item must be pressed in one at a time.
- Get up very early Monday morning to gather wood for the fire, haul 20-40 gallons of water to a giant copper pot, and fill several other barrels with water.
- Begin the four-stage washing, consisting of firsting, seconding, boiling and rinsing.
- Firsting: With clothing turned right side out, soap and rub the clothes until they are clean. Wring each item.
- Seconding: Turn clothes inside out, and using fresh water repeat the soaping, rubbing and wringing.
- Boiling: Boil white cotton clothing and linens in soapy water. Remove from the boiling water using long sticks. Wring the items out again.
- Rinsing: Thoroughly rinse all items in fresh clean water. No one wanted to wear lye-soaked clothing! Wring out everything one more time
- Move the clothes to the drying area. Utilize clothing lines if available, and bushes or the lawn if not.
Wilcox, Estelle Woods, and Bertha Clow. Practical Housekeeping: A Careful Compilation of Tried and Approved Recipes. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: Buckeye Publishing, 1883.
Wigley, S.S. Domestic Economy: A Class-book for Girls. London: T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row, 1876.