Over the weekend I wrote a scene that takes place during the washing of a tub full of laundry. While I’ve researched laundry practicalities in the 18th century before (a major character in Kindred is the laundress on a small plantation), I’d never actually written a scene where the stage business was heavily dependent upon the step-by-step process of getting the laundry done.

So I googled the subject for a quick refresher and found this wonderful link I thought worth sharing, in case anyone wishes to see just how sweet most of us have it in these modern days: Laundry Day in the 18th Century. It’s a three page article that explains the process succinctly but in enough detail for me to build my scene around.

A typical 18th century laundry day routine: Up before dawn to gather firewood for the kettle in the yard; haul the water; sort the laundry; boil the first load, agitating it with a stick; transfer to wash tub; scrub each piece of laundry; try various harsh means to get out stubborn stains; transfer to rinse tub; rinse each garment; wring each garment; spread to dry on the bushes or hang on a line; gather more wood; haul more water; begin the next load.

And there’s still the pressing and the ironing to get done!

Some aspects about what we usually think of as simpler times were really not at all simple, but tedious, back-breaking work. I hereby promise myself to never complain about having to do my laundry at the laundromat again, where all I have to do is load the washer, put in my coins, then sit back and read a book until they’re done. Then transfer them to the dryers and go back to my book until they’re done. Then fold them and take them home. A week’s worth of laundry done in 90 minutes.

Want more on 18th century laundry? Here’s an article about the wash house at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation home. Included is a list of the laundry accoutrement inventoried upon the President’s death in 1799, and their value. I just love stumbling across little details like this, so I can occasionally name the price my characters would have paid for their purchases whether at a trading post, or town shoppe, or the village square on market day… when they were fortunate enough to have hard coin to spend. Much buying and selling in the late 18th century was still done through barter, at time before our country began issuing its own coinage and nearly every sort of money under the sun was in circulation.

But that’s another topic for another post!

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