Depression Era: Wash Day on the Farm

Missouri woman recalls wash day on the farm during the depression era

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During the depression era, before the days of modern electrical appliances, Monday was wash day. Today we throw the dirty clothing in the washer and drier and call it doing the laundry, and it is done anytime the mood strikes us.

Back then wash day was a whole day's work and we went to bed tired and with a backache. Mother and I started that day by building a big fire under a huge iron kettle in the backyard at our farm home. The kettle was filled from a cistern of rain water that had drained from the roof of the house when it rained.

When the water became hot we filled the galvanized tub and added homemade soap to the water and inserted a wash board. The clothes were rubbed on the board to remove the dirt, then transferred to the kettle of water to which lye had been added. The clothing was boiled for about a half hour. We had an old broom handle to punch the clothing as it boiled. While the white clothing boiled we washed the colored clothes and cotton dresses. Then came the real hard part: scrubbing dirty farm overalls that had collected their soil from the barnyard and fields.

Then the clothing was hung on a line in the yard to dry.

Marie Rea 
Russellville, Missouri

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.