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A Mid-1800s Guide to Laundry in America

A Proper Homemaker's Guide

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A Mid-1800s Guide to Laundry in America

Photo: Library of Congress

While laundry is inevitable and not a favorite chore for many, the equipment and products that we use today offer convenience that women in the 1800s would never believe. Take a look at the laundry instructions from three manuals for proper homemakers. Links are included if you would like to read the books in their entirety. Other chapters include recipes, housekeeping and etiquette.

A Treatise on Domestic Economy

For the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School

Catherine Esther Beecher

Published 1845


Chapter 26

Articles to be provided for Washing.

A plenty of soft water is a very important item. When this cannot be had, ley or soda can be put in hard water, to soften it; care being used not to put in so much, as to injure the hands and clothes. Two wash-forms are needed; one for the two tubs in which to put the suds, and the other for blueing and starching-tubs. Four tubs, of different sizes, are necessary; also,[Pg 285] a large wooden dipper, (as metal is apt to rust;) two or three pails; a grooved wash-board; a clothes-line, (sea-grass, or horse-hair is best;) a wash-stick to move clothes, when boiling, and a wooden fork to take them out. Soap-dishes, made to hook on the tubs, save soap and time.

Provide, also, a clothes-bag, in which to boil clothes; an indigo-bag, of double flannel; a starch-strainer, of coarse linen; a bottle of ox-gall for calicoes; a supply of starch, neither sour nor musty; several dozens of clothes-pins, which are cleft sticks, used to fasten clothes on the line; a bottle of dissolved gum Arabic; two clothes-baskets; and a brass or copper kettle, for boiling clothes, as iron is apt to rust.

A closet, for keeping all these things, is a great convenience. It may be made six feet high, three feet deep, and four feet wide. The tubs and pails can be set on the bottom of this, on their sides, one within another. Four feet from the bottom, have a shelf placed, on which to put the basket of clothes-pins, the line, soap-dishes, dipper, and clothes-fork. Above this, have another shelf, for the bottles, boxes, &c. The shelves should reach out only half way from the back, and nails should be put at the sides, for hanging the wash-stick, clothes-bag, starch-bag, and indigo-bag. The ironing-conveniences might be kept in the same closet, by having the lower shelf raised a little, and putting a deep drawer under it, to hold the ironing-sheets, holders, &c. A lock and key should be put on the closet. If the mistress of the family requests the washerwoman to notify her, when she is through, and then ascertains if all these articles are put in their places, it will prove useful. Tubs, pails, and all hooped wooden ware, should be kept out of the sun, and in a cool place, or they will fall to pieces.

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