Some people have asked about laundry. How am I going to do it as a housewife in 1916?
While the ‘Wash on Monday’ nursery rhyme made famous by the Little House books doesn’t appear to have been nearly as prevalent in New Zealand, there are still suggestions that there were definite routines to daily chores, and washing, done at home, was most frequently done on Monday.
It makes sense: most visiting and social events would happen on the weekend, so washing on Monday would ensure there wasn’t laundry on view when visitors came around, or that the lady of the house was occupied for the full day doing laundry while she also had guests. It also meant that any good clothes worn for social events or church could get laundered right away, before stains set in. Another old rhyme explains that it was about drying time – and in the middle of winter, that may indeed take a while!
Poorer households would have done their own, but washing was considered one of the most onerous of chores, so in wealthier households the maid did it, it was sent out, or someone was hired in. NZ newspapers are full of advertisements for a woman to ‘wash on Monday’.
Laundry was done in a number of ways in the 1910s.
The most basic, but most labour intensive, method was to soak it in warm or hot soapy water, and then rub it vigorously on a washboard, rinse it thoroughly, and then wring it or (if you had enough money to afford one) put it through a mangler to remove the excess water. Advertisements and advice columns in NZ newspapers indicate that the simple washtub was still a common method in NZ in the 1910s. It was probably used most in poorer households, and wealthy ones where the lady of the house didn’t have to worry about how much work the washing was for her maid or laundress.
Another option was a washing machine. Early washing machines either heated the water, or had hot water poured in or delivered through a pipe, and then had a mechanical system which rotated and agitated the wash to clean it.
Middle class households without enough money to hire a laundry lady in, or to send out the washing, or who found themselves frequently without a maid due to the chronic shortage of ‘help’ in NZ, probably had the most incentive to purchase washing machines.
They were still a novelty in many areas in 1910, being worthy of demonstration days and trade fairs, but the seller of the most common brand in NZ bragged of 5,000 in use in the country in 1911. They became increasingly common as the decade wore on, as evinced by how often they appear secondhand in auction sales by 1916.
The first electric washing machines went on sale in the US in 1904, but I can’t find any evidence that they existed in New Zealand until after the war.
Obviously I do not have a 1910s washing machine, nor a washboard (I’ve been looking for one since January, but haven’t managed to source a suitable one in my price range), nor a mangle. So how am I going to do laundry?
I’m pretending that as a middle class woman, I previously hired someone in, or sent out my laundry, but, due to the combination of labour shortages due to the war and a reduced income due to my husband enlisting, plus the rising cost of basic goods, I can no longer afford to do so. I also cannot afford a washing machine, due to the aforementioned reduced income, and limited imports and a shortage in metals and other basics materials are making them quite scarce. (advertisements for new washing machines almost disappear from NZ newspapers by Nov 1915, though they appear frequently secondhand in auctions after that, particularly in more rural locations). Or maybe mine has just broke, and I can’t find a handyman to fix it due to the labour shortages.
In any case, it’s plausible that I don’t have a machine, and don’t have a washing board or mangler. So I’m going to do laundry more or less as described in this ad for Sunlight Soap – soak, rub (on itself) and scrub (with a brush), rinse and hang. I even have vintage (probably 1960s-70s) Sunlight Soap I’ve been hoarding for years.
I’ll only be washing the clothes I’m wearing, and any other items that match 1910s ones (sheets, towels, etc), as I won’t actually get an accurate image of what doing laundry was like if I washed my skinny jeans and modern unders!
I shall let you know how it goes…