Posted by: patwogan | August 18, 2008

Laundry Day

We did not have indoor plumbing in the little house by Glencliff.  That is, unless you count a pitcher pump by a sink in the kitchen.  We did have electricity and I believe the house was heated by natural gas.  This was probably because of its proximity to Glencliff Farm where the owner of the Union Gas Company lived.

The lack of modern plumbing and running water was probably one reason that our laundry was taken over to Grandma and Grandpa Hudiburg’s house.  They did not have running water either, but they had a wash house.  The wash house was a separate building built over the storm/root cellar.  My mother and grandmother did laundry together and it was an all day affair.   So every Monday morning as Dad went to work, he took Mom, me, and the laundry to Grandmother’s house. Grandmother did have a wringer washing machine in the wash house and she also had a two-burner gas hot plate that was used to heat the wash water.  A wringer washer required two wash tubs on stands in which to rinse the clothes.  Both tubs were filled with cold water, but the tub on the washer was filled with hot water.  A wash boiler, an oval container which fit over both burners of the hot plate, was filled with water and heated to a very hot, almost boiling  temperature.  The boiler had a handle on both ends to lift it with and when it reached the desired temperature, the water was poured into the tub of the washer.  Soap was added and the clothes were placed into the tub and the washer was turned on.  The washer they used had an agitator which swished the clothes around loosening the dirt .  Bleach was usually added to the first rinse tub and bluing was added to the second tub if I remember correctly.  Both of these tubs and the water in the wash boiler had to be carried from a cistern near the house. 

 The water in a cistern is usually very soft as it is collected from rain water coming off the roof of the house and filtered through a charcoal filter. The water in the cistern is brought to the surface by a series of small “cups” .  These cups are on a chain type apparatus which goes around a gear cog at the top and  bottom.  A handle on the side of the cistern pump turns the cog chain and lifts the cups.  When the cups reach the top, they tip and pour the water into a trough which empties into a bucket or container of some sort.  If you turned the handle too fast, the water was sloshed back into the cistern.  I know this because it was sometimes my job to turn the handle and in order to get it done quickly, I often turned the handle too fast.  This resulted in my being “scolded”.  This water was used for everything from drinking to cooking to dishwashing and laundry and all the water was carried by buckets to the point of use. 

The first clothes to be washed were the whites, followed (in the same water) by the colored clothes.  These were not put into the bleach water.  The last things to be washed (in the same water) were the work clothes which Grandpa wore farming.  My father worked in an office, so his shirts were washed with the white clothes.  The sheets were all white and usually the towels were white also.   After the clothes were washed, the clothes such as shirts, etc. had to be starched.  Starch was dissolved in boiling water and then diluted to the desired consistency.  After the laundry was washed, each load was taken to the clothes line and hung out to dry.   It was a matter of pride with the women of the house to see these snow-white clothes hanging on the line.  One of the things I remember being scolded about was running under the sheets as they were hanging on the line.  The line-dried clothes always smelled so fresh.  After the laundry was done, the wash water was emptied usually on either the vegetable garden or the flower garden.  Recycling is nothing new!

I loved laundry day because it was a chance to play at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and sometimes I even got to do things with Grandpa if he wasn’t too busy.  I also got to play with my cousin George who lived with Grandma and Grandpa.  He was older than I and was my hero.  I loved to sit out on an old corn-planter under the mulberry tree and eat mulberries.  Grandpa had also fixed a teeter-totter in the back yard for the grandkids and I liked to play on it, too. 


As I said earlier, this was an all-day affair and you can see that it was by necessity.  In the morning, Mom and Grandma would put on a pot of beans to cook.  We always had corn bread and beans on wash day.  We only had one car, so after he got off work, Dad would come and pick up Mom, me, and the laundry. 

Laundry is not as much of a social occasion as it was then, but it is a lot easier.  The modern technology we now enjoy and take for granted has given us so much more leisure time than our mothers and grandmothers had.  I don’t think our children will have as many happy memories about laundry day, tho’.



  1. Thank goodness for modern technology! Although I agree that there is a lost sense of connection through these kind of chores being done, I think I’d rather bond over a nice meal 🙂

  2. That is such an interesting point. Modern technology gives us all this extra leisure time – that we now spend by watching tv, or sitting in separate rooms on the computer…

  3. I too remember my mom and my grandmother doing laundry in the cellar. To this day, the smell of Tide and Clorox brings back memories.

    I’m with Kristen, there is nothing like bonding over a meal. It’s because we are foodies.


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