Doing Laundry in Montana Before Automatic Washers

They that wash on Monday, have all the week to dry;
  They that wash on Tuesday, are not so much awry;
  They that wash on Wednesday, are not so much to blame
  They that wash on Thursday, wash for very shame;
  They that wash on Friday, wash in sorry need
  They that wash on Saturday, are lazy folk indeed.

Nursery Rhyme

Maytag’s first washer was built all the way back in 1907. In 1911, they had an electric model. Before that? It was tough work that was done by hand. But washing machines existed long before Maytag’s first foray.

In 1874, William Blackstone, an Indiana merchant, built a washing machine for his wife’s birthday. It had a handle to move back and forth, which would swirl the clothes around on a wooden agitator.

He began making the machines and selling them for $2.50. The business was a success.

Laundry was the household chore housewives without running water hated most. Rachel Haskell, a Nevada housewife, called it “the Herculean task which women all dread” and “the great domestic dread of the household.”

On the night before wash day, clothes were soaked in tubs of warm water. First thing the next morning, women scrubbed the clothes by hand on a washboard. Some might agitate them with a stick in a “stomp bucket.” 

The home-made soap was a strong irritant, hard on hands. To make it involved quite a lot of work. It was a mixture of animal fat and lye cooked together. The lye was made by straining water through wood ashes collected in a barrel. The lye was a caustic alkaline fluid rich in potassium carbonates. 

The scrubbed clothes needed to be boiled in big tubs, where they were stirred constantly with a long to keep them from scorching. The clothes were then dragged out of the water with a wash stick, rinsed in plain water and then rinsed again in water with bluing added.

 Some people had wringers, which they cranked by hand, squeezing the water out of each garment. Others had to wring each piece of clothing by hand.

Finally, the clothes were ready to hang on the clothesline outside to dry. Or, in winter, to freeze.

There were no wrinkle-free fabrics, so all the clothes needed to be ironed. And since there were no electric irons, each iron needed to be heated on the stove. It might take three irons to finish a single shirt.

Wise men learned not to expect large, hot meals from their wives on laundry day.

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