“Clothespin,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014
My great-grandmother washed clothes every Monday, and she almost always wrote about it in her journal.
Monday, May 6, 1912 – “Another stormy Monday. Clothes washed and on the line. Pa sitting by the fire.” – Lydia Jane Hall
On Tuesdays she ironed.
Tuesday, May 7, 1912 – “Partly cleared. Clothes drying between the showers so they can be ironed.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Winter complicated the process.
Monday, January 29, 1912 – “Cold. Snowed all day. Washed, put out clothes, but didn’t dry. Brought them in frozen stiff, and dried them in the house.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Spring and summer brought better days.
Monday, April 1, 1912 – “Nice day. The best yet for washing. Clothes look nice. The birds are singing. Some are building their nests.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Monday, August 11, 1913 – “Nice cool day. Washing done at eleven o’clock – looks very nice and white.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Fall started the weather-related difficulties again.
Monday, October 13, 1913 – “Cooler – look for a frost tonight. Cloudy at night. Clothes dry in the house.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Monday, December 1, 1913 – “Dark dreary day – clothes still hanging on the line – not dry at bed-time. Hope it will be pleasant tomorrow.” – Lydia Jane Hall
I hardly think about doing the laundry. When clothes and linens have made a big enough pile I dump them in the washing machine and push the button. When we first came to Alaska in 1969 I had to go to a commercial laundromat once a week, and I thought that was a hardship.
But in 1912 providing clean laundry for the family must have been incredibly time-consuming. I heard somewhere that washing was done on Mondays because that was the day burning was prohibited. Clothes could be hung on the line without getting covered with black soot.
With a big family and no helpful machines, my great-grandmother and grandmother often needed help for their Monday and Tuesday routines.
Monday, June 8, 1914 – “Agnes done the washing. Two weeks washing. Mary [the help] failed to come, she had a lame back and the clothes were put a soak yesterday so had to wash them. They look very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall
The clothesline on the farm ran from the back door to the woodshed barn in the back yard. The person hanging the wash stood on the stone steps, took clothespins from the bag hanging at the end of the line, hung the wash piece by piece, and pulled the line using a pulley so that the clothes were suspended out over the back yard.
“Washing,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2014
By the late 1940’s, when I was a child, my grandmother had a “washing machine.” On Mondays she wheeled it from the back pantry, hooked the hose up to the kitchen sink faucet, filled the tub with clothes and soap and water, and turned it on. It wiggled and jiggled and made all kinds of noises while it agitated. This is what I begged to stay at home from school to watch. After she emptied the tub, my grandmother put the clothes through the wringer attached to the top of the tub, then hung them on the clothesline in the back yard where they billowed and flapped in the fickle Whirlwind Hill breezes.
I especially loved to watch my grandmother put the sheets and towels and clothes through the ironing mangle. This big heated and padded roller ironed linens in much less time than a regular iron. And my grandmother could sit down while using it.
As far as I know, there never was a clothes dryer on the farm. My grandmother continued to put the clothes out on the line or on a drying rack in the kitchen until she died. I think my town grandmother did the same thing. My own parents had no dryer until I was out of college. My mother hung the clothes on a circular clothesline in the back yard year round. Even when my family and I went back east during the summers to visit, and there was a dryer in a closet on the back porch, we hung our t-shirts and socks out in the sunshine. The smell of clothes dried outdoors is irresistible, and the line-dried towels had a roughness and absorbability that’s hard to find these days. Fluffy towels are one of my least favorite inventions. And don’t even get me started about “dryer sheets.”
“Clothesline,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 1986
On Wednesday: Money and Apples