Doing Laundry the Victorian Way

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Eleanor Rose

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Messages
5,884
Location
central NC
laundry-in-victorian-times-01.jpg

This photo is from 1901, but things hadn’t changed much since the mid-19th century. (Public Domain)
Most folks don’t enjoy doing the laundry, but in the 19th century the process had to begin long before laundry day (typically on a Monday). Many of our Victorian friends made their own soap, which was a week-long operation involving making lye, rendering tallow and combining them to make the soap. The soap was then cured for at least three months, so wise homemakers made plenty of it at one time. Lots of water was needed for laundry day, so most households collected rainwater to use for their washing.

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.
Of course, the job didn’t really end there. After the laundry dried, many items needed to be starched and ironed the next day. Yikes!



Sources:
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.
 

Eleanor Rose

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Messages
5,884
Location
central NC
content.jpg

(Public Domain)
In the mid-19th​ century ironing took all day and was a hot and dangerous job. A typical household “sad iron” or flat iron weighed anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds and had to be heated on a stove. A homemaker needed at least two of these irons so that one could be heating while the other was being used.

Another popular type of iron called a charcoal iron or box iron utilized hot charcoal in a reservoir to keep it hot. This entire iron – handle included – became extremely hot, so the person ironing had to use a thick cloth or pad to hold the iron.

Mary Florence Potts, a 19 year old, invented, patented and aggressively marketed an iron that had a detachable handle in 1870. The handle on Mary’s iron could be removed while the iron was heating on the stove. Sadly, only a small number of Victorian housewives ever had this miracle iron.



Source: Amram, Fred M. B. “Women of Mettle.” Washington Antiques, 2004.
 

DBF

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Messages
1,258
Why does reading this remind me of a nursery rhyme my mother sang to me?

Here we go 'round the mulberry bush
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
So early in the morning.

This is the way we wash our clothes,
Wash our clothes,
Wash our clothes
This is the way we wash our clothes,
So early Monday morning.

This is the way we iron our clothes,
Iron our clothes,
Iron our clothes
This is the way we iron our clothes,
So early Tuesday morning.

This is the way we scrub the floor,
Scrub the floor,
Scrub the floor
This is the way we scrub the floor,
So early Wednesday morning.

This is the way we mend our clothes,
Mend our clothes,
Mend our clothes
This is the way we mend our clothes,
So early Thursday morning.

This is the way we sweep the floor,
Sweep the floor,
Sweep the floor
This is the way we sweep the floor,
So early Friday morning.

This is the way we bake our bread,
Bake our bread,
Bake our bread
This is the way we bake our bread,
So early Saturday morning.

This is the way we get dressed up,
Get dressed up,
Get dressed up
This is the way we get dressed up,

So early Sunday morning.

So it appears there is some truth to the song.


Source
http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/childrens-songs/Here_we_go_round_the_mulberry_bush.htm
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Waterloo50

Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Jul 7, 2015
Messages
4,850
Location
Blighty.
I feel really sorry for Victorian women, especially those that lived in the big industrial cities in England, no sooner had they washed all the whites and hung them on the line then they’d soon be covered in soot from all the mills, factories and railways. I guess it must have been the same for women in the USA.
 

EJ Zander

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,453
Location
Gettysburg, PA
My Grandmother lived to be 99. For a school project my daughter had to interview someone "older" to get a list of their top 3 inventions they had seen come about during their lifetime. Naturally Great Grandma fit the bill. Grandma was pretty pragmatic.
Her top three and her reasons:
1. washing machine (could get more work done in a day)
2. dryer ( clothes wouldnt freeze outside during winter)
3. indoor plumbing ( no longer had to go back to use the bathroom)
Cars and airplanes didnt even make the list. Given that her Dad was a blacksmith that was a surprise.
 

lupaglupa

Corporal
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Messages
278
Laundry was such a big job! Anything to make it easier was a real relief to women. Troy, NY, not far from where I live is known as the "Collar City." A woman named Hannah Lord who lived there invented the detachable collar which significantly reduced laundry for housewives. Often the collar is the dirtiest part of a man's shirt (still true from my experience). Rather than having to wash the whole shirt just to clean the collar, Mrs. Lord's invention made it possible for one shirt to be worn several times with only a change of collar - a much smaller items to wash and iron. Later detachable cuffs were made for the same reason. Troy became the center of the collar making industry and thus got its nickname.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

LoyaltyOfDogs

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Messages
1,461
Location
Gettysburg area
View attachment 336836
This photo is from 1901, but things hadn’t changed much since the mid-19th century. (Public Domain)
Most folks don’t enjoy doing the laundry, but in the 19th century the process had to begin long before laundry day (typically on a Monday). Many of our Victorian friends made their own soap, which was a week-long operation involving making lye, rendering tallow and combining them to make the soap. The soap was then cured for at least three months, so wise homemakers made plenty of it at one time. Lots of water was needed for laundry day, so most households collected rainwater to use for their washing.

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.
Of course, the job didn’t really end there. After the laundry dried, many items needed to be starched and ironed the next day. Yikes!



Sources:
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.
Was wringing always done completely by hand before the invention of the wringer washer? It seems to me that some enterprising person might have devised a way to attach a piece of clothing to a device that would hold it at one end and allow a laundress to turn a handle at the other to twist the fabric and squeeze the water out.
 

AnnaLee

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 4, 2017
Messages
1,305
I remember my mother and maternal grandmother doing laundry when I was very young. A fire was built out in the backyard and a huge metal tub was filled with water. When the water boiled the homemade soap and clothes were added and stirred with a long stick. A washboard was used to get stubborn stains out. Another tub filled with water was used to rinse the clothes and then the task of ringing them out and hanging on a clothesline began. This was an all day event and sometimes occurred two-three times a week. Then began the tedious chore of ironing of which an "iron" iron was kept on the coal stove and then used as needed. There were no refrigerators to keep milk and other foods cool, a spring house and the well was used. There was no indoor plumbing. Sounds like the 1800's but this occurred in the mid 20th century. My family moved north in 1953 and that's when we began to have modern conveniences.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Messages
7,898
I think this picture is from Jacob Riis' book, How the Other Half Lives. Riis photographed the immigrants living in the NYC slums at/about 1890, right when the Progressive Era was getting started. The photos are available on line and I think the book is still in print.
Yes, this. Jacob Riis was famous for photographing (and working to reform) the grinding poverty many immigrants faced in the turn-of-the-20th-century North.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Cadet
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Messages
8
There was a British reality show called "1900 House" where a family lived for three months as if in 1900 England. It was shown on PBS here in the States.
No electricity, and coal heat with the attendant coal dust and ash.
The participnts mentioned how much time it took to keep the house, themselves and their clothing clean.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Kurt G

First Sergeant
Joined
May 23, 2018
Messages
1,141
Many years ago I found some rusted metal near the creek at what had been my great-grandparents farm in northern Michigan . There were a few rusted buckets and a barrel hoop that a tree had grown up through . I mentioned that to my mother and was told that during the milder months great-grandmother would hook up the horse to the wagon and take the laundry back there to do it . My mother remembered a big kettle that she boiled water in . The creek is about 400 yards from the house . She had 11 or 12 children . I can't imagine the work involved let alone how that much laundry would be done in the middle of a bad winter .
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top