This washer machine, the 20th Century (model name), was first produced in the early 1900’s around 1910 by the Nineteen Hundred Washing Machine Company in Binghamton, NY. Early hand cranked models eventually gave way to electric models which evolved into the large automated machines tucked in a corner of our laundry rooms or basements. But, what was life like prior to the washer machine?
As much as I’d like to think of Hannah and Betty using one of these washer machines in A Dream Unfolding, the reality is they would have used nothing more than a wash basin, rinse basin, and a washboard, like the one shown below.
Laundry was labor intensive, so much more than by our modern standards. Water had to be hauled and then heated on the stove or over a fire. Women lathered up soap in the hot or warm water and plunged and scrubbed each piece one at a time against metal washboards. After they were satisfied the clothing was clean, they would rinse the garment in the rinse basin before hand wringing it. Clothes would go on the line to dry. Once dry, ironing began.
A task that would take us an hour today would have eaten up an entire afternoon or even a day. For women who worked in a laundry facility or boardinghouse, like Hannah and Betty, would have repeated the chore more than once in the week.
When I think of the amount of time and labor this simple household chore used to take, I’m grateful for living in the modern era.