The young housekeeper–Washing day, c. 1870. F.L. Stuber, photographer. Bethlehem, PA. 1 photographic print on stereo card : stereograph.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
While reading about Caroline Merrick and researching, I came upon the subject of doing laundry. This was very much a part of nineteenth century living for women in the North. I believe many women in the South had slaves that probably did all of the washing as most women lived on plantations.
The task of doing laundry was so laborious and burdensome; I have decided to include it in my final paper. In considering how we do laundry today and reading about past methods, it seems unfair to complain about it with our modern conveniences.
For instance, women in the nineteenth century who labored as domestic workers (as we’re reading in Martha Hodes’s The Sea Captain’s Wife) did not simply dust the knick-knacks in middle-class parlors. They also had to clean grime from fireplaces and clean mud tracked inside from the unpaved streets.
Washing clothes was done most frequently and was the most burdensome. First, the soap had to be made. This involved melting and boiling cooking grease and lard, ashes and lime. Then it was cooked over fire until it hardened. After this the water had to be hauled, a fire built to heat the water, then soaking, stirring and scrubbing the clothes against a washboard. Finally, rinsed, wrung and hung to dry individually.
With all our modern conveniences today, there is no comparison to what the women of nineteenth century had to endure.
Source: Hodes, Martha. The Sea Captain’s Wife. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.