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Housekeeping 1915-style

Author Photo
By Erin Sheehan | Dec 4, 2014

I recently borrowed my mother-in-law’s Household Hand Book: Containing reliable hints and suggestions for the household, by Lily Haxworth Wallace. It was published by the makers of Runford Baking Powder in 1915. As you can imagine, many gems lie inside that worn cover.

I’ve never been more grateful for that clothes washer sitting down in the basement than after reading the section, “Laundry Work.” Removing stains in 1915 was serious business. The book recommends removing paint stains by scrubbing them with turpentine, benzene or chloroform. Blood stains get treated with kerosene. No thanks!

In another recommendation Ms. Wallace recommends that her readers soak all clothing and linens overnight before washing day. She also offers a recipe for “soap jelly,” to be used on delicate fabrics. The reason for the jelly is that delicate fabrics can’t survive having soap rubbed directly on them. Because doing laundry involved manually rubbing soap directly on clothing that apparently were soaking overnight in large metal tubs! It makes my hands feel dry and cracked just thinking about it.

The book goes on to offer instructions regarding the “Division of Labor” in the household, providing a to-do list for each day of the week. Monday is for needlework. Tuesday is wash day and starts with “boiling the clothes.” Getting up early on Tuesday is also recommended, in preparation for the long, hard day ahead. Wednesday is for ironing (does anyone iron anymore?) and Thursday afternoon “must be left free, being the usual ‘afternoon out.’” I had no idea that people went calling on Thursday afternoon but I guess they must have. Needless to say, Sunday was the only real rest day, and not much of one at that, as the woman would have had to still come up with a big Sunday dinner.

Reading books like this reminds us of how hard our grandparents and great-grandparents worked. Especially the women. So next time you’re feeling particularly nostalgic for the “old days,” throw in a load of laundry! You’ll feel a lot better about living in 2014.

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