I once read that washing clothes is as easy as taking them off, throwing them on the floor, waiting a few days for mom to pick them up, then tossing them into a machine, and remembering to push a couple of buttons. Obviously, this is an oversimplification of doing the family laundry.
For thousands of years the family laundry in most cultures has been genderized to be the responsibility of women and in many places it still is but today in other cultures many families share this chore.
Throughout history cleaning clothes has been an important part of family living and different techniques, tools, and cleaning agents have been used. In early American history washing was done on Monday’s and it was an all-day affair for mom and the daughters. Monday was a popular washing day because it allowed plenty of time to get the clothes dried, aired, folded, and put away for church on Sunday.
Other cultures would take their clothes to the river, beat them over the rocks, scrub them with stones, stomp on them with their feet, and hang them in the bushes to dry. I witnessed this several years ago with my son and grandson when we visited Morocco and again when we were in Mali, Africa.
The Romans had a unique way of cleaning their clothes which by today’s modern hygienic standards is not acceptable. A major cleaning agent used in their laundry was urine collected from public restrooms. Urine is sanitary and contains ammonia which is an effective cleaning agent. Medieval Europe also used urine to remove stains and dissolve grease on their clothes.
In the 19th century the mangle or “wringer” was developed to aid in the washing of clothes. A wringer consisted of two long rollers attached to a wooden frame along with a crank to rotate the rollers. After washing their clothes, they were put between the rollers which compressed them and squished the water out. The clothes were then hung on the clothesline.
This brief history of laundry is meant as a precursive description to today’s efficient and comparatively simple way of washing clothes. Making washing much more effective and less time consuming.
My mother and father were married in 1947 and Mom was a stay-at-home wife who immediately assumed her role as caretaker of the home which included washing all their clothes. She didn't have the convenience of a time saving automatic washer and dryer. All she had was an old “wringer” washer and a clothesline.
I remember living in Afton, Wyoming, and watching my Mom use her washer in our three-room home (which, by-the-way had no bathroom or kitchen drain but it did have running water). She would heat the water on the kitchen stove and then pour it into the washer.
After the clothes were finished Mom would run each piece carefully through the wringer so she didn't get her fingers caught, rinse the clothes, and then put them through the ringer again. She hung them up on the clothesline to let them dry.
After hanging the clothes, she went back to the kitchen and emptied the tub that collected the wringer water and then she carried it to the back porch where she dumped it out.
In 1954, my family moved to Salt Lake City with our old wringer washer. She continued using it just as she did in Afton until they could afford an automatic washer in the early 1960’s (the dryer came much later).
My mother, like women for thousands of years, may not have enjoyed doing the laundry but she did it every week. She did it because she loved her family and wanted them to have clean clothes even if those clothes were not stylish.
My Mom, like most moms loved her family so much that she would do whatever she could to help them become the best they could become. She invested a lot of time and energy, sweat and tears, love and devotion, into making her family happy.
While most women today, living in this great country of ours, have more efficient methods to clean their family’s clothes they still have the same devotion and desire to serve those they love and cherish. Let’s help our children recognize and appreciate all their parents do to help them prepare for the challenges they will meet as they grow through childhood, manipulate their way through their teenage years, and enter adulthood.
Happy Failing Forward,
Anne and Calvert
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