First, let us look at the household chore of laundry. Modern washers and dryers were nonexistent in those days. What did people use in order to do their laundry back then?
Most of us have seen the old-fashioned washboards among antique collections at Cracker Barrel and elsewhere. One wonders how they could have been satisfactorily used to wash clothes, particularly such things as very dirty work clothes, diapers, and the like.
Often the clothes to be laundered were soaked overnight in a metal washtub. This was a large round metal tub, usually filled with warm water. The clothes would be submerged in it and left overnight to soak, thus loosening the soil from the cloth and making it easier to remove on the washboard.
Incidentally, those large round tubs were also used for the Saturday night (and sometimes other times) bath for the family. They were filled with water, usually warm, and one by one the children would get in the tub and get a bath. The same water? Often, yes.
It was too much trouble to heat water for each youngster’s bath, so the same water would have to do several youngsters. Even the adults often bathed in the same way. This procedure was usually done near the kitchen stove or in front of the fireplace. No bathroom, of course.
Back to the laundry. Monday was called “wash day.” Early on Monday morning immediately after finishing in the kitchen from breakfast, the mother would proceed with the day’s laundry. With whatever means of soap she had, she would take the clothes, item by item, and rub them up and down on the washboard. When she was satisfied the item was sufficiently clean, she would put it in another tub of water and, in older times, wring the water out of it by hand. Later on, some types of wringers were used.
Remember, this is doing the laundry for a sizeable family, perhaps a family with a husband and older children working in the fields and with a family of numerous children. People back then ordinarily wore clothes over and again, certainly not changing daily or several times a day.
It would take all morning and maybe longer to do the laundry for a sizeable family.
Meanwhile, “dinner” — the midday meal — had to be fixed and ready when the men came in for it. One wonders how the ladies of that day handled such a day. And, often it was done with another baby in the way!
I well remember the first wringer washer we ever got. It had an old round tub with an agitator, electrically operated. Above the tub was the wringer — two round pieces of hard rubber. Clothes were put through the wringer and came out the other side wet but relatively free of excess water.
Frequently one would hear how a woman would get her fingers caught in the wringer and often badly bruised before she could get it cut off.
The laundry finally done, the next step was to hang the clothes on the clothesline out back of the house. Most of us are familiar with the clothesline, but few of us use it to hang out the family laundry. Item by item, the clothes were pinned to the wires by clothespins.
It would take several clotheslines to hang a family’s clothes. Sheets took up a lot of space. Small items might be bunched together in order to conserve space. It was a common sight to see a family’s laundry drying on the lines out back of the house. A close eye would be kept on the skies for clouds for a heavy rainstorm could almost ruin an entire morning of washing.
Most clothes of the era were not made of wrinkle-proof material, so that meant ironing. While we are familiar with electric irons, most of us are not familiar with the old flat irons of yesteryear.
These were irons heated on top of the stove, in front of the fireplace, or wherever else they could be warmed. They were used to press out the wrinkles that were inevitable in much of the clothing.
If the washing was done on Monday, probably Tuesday was devoted to doing the ironing. Sheets, pillowcases, shirts, tablecloths, dresses, even pants usually had to ironed. Irons had to heated over and again in order for them to do their job. Lots of items of the day were starched in order to make them more stiff when they were ironed.
Now, let’s look at other inside areas. Large rugs were often on the floor, both to cover the rough floors and to be warm. These were not wall-to-wall carpet, which came in for the most part after the war. They were loose and could be taken outside for “beating,” as it was called. Most people did not have vacuum cleaners as we know them.
When rugs were considered in need of “beating,” they would often be taken outside, suspended on whatever one could find, and literally “beaten.” This would be by means of brooms or other objects striking the rug over and again and literally beating the dust out of it. When finished, it would be taken inside and put back on the floor for a few more months until “rug beating time” came around again.
Until electricity became available, the oil lamps and candles furnished the illumination for the evening. No such thing as flipping a switch and getting instant lights. Oil lamps required care with the wicks to be trimmed, the basins to be filled with oil, and the glass tops often washed. They had to be carried from one room to another, sometimes resulting in an accident along the way. Candles were much more difficult, for they were open flame and could prove a very real fire hazard.
Outside the house, there was the unending job in the summers of keeping the yard mowed. Here is were young fellows, often the teenagers, came in. While some women did the mowing, most often that was relegated to the men and boys.
There was no such thing as a riding mower in those days. For the most part, at least, these came about later on. Most homes did not own a powered push mower.
What did they use? Three things from that era come to mind — and I have used all of them.
There was the push mower. It was a mower with revolving metal pieces that caught the grass and forced it against a sharp lateral blade which did the cutting. It had a long handle with a cross piece at the top. The power was furnished by the person behind the mower. This was fine in lower grass, not sufficient in tall grass. Personally, I have mowed many lawns like this — back and forth time and again until the lawn was fully cut.
There was what was then known as the “lively lad.” This was for taller weeds and heavier grass. It had a V-shaped frame toward the cutting part and a single handle bove the V-shaped frame. Between the ends of the frame was a sharp two-edged blade. The lively lad swung back and forth, thus cutting the weeds and tall grass. Again, I have used these many times.
For larger bushes and weeds, there was what we called the brier blade.” This was a sharp long blade attached to a handle. On the handle were hand-holds. This sort of blade could be used for heavier mowing and for cutting bushes and the like.
Now, another means of controlling vegetation in the pastures and around fenced-in places were the cows and maybe the goats. Cows will eat all sort of plant life, not only grass but many weeds. A herd of cattle wil keep a pasture clean of much of the vegetation, through there are some things they will not eat. They learn quickly to let briers alone. Goats are even better, for there is little they will not eat. In modern times, goats are even being used to control kudzu, if there is any controlling it.
On and on we could go about various contraptions used on the farm. Suffice it to say, times have changed. Modern farming is done by hugh machines and doesn’t resemble that of the farms of yesteryear.