On laundry day, she used a galvanized tub and scrub board to wash clothes. By the early 50s, this was unusual, but you could still find both items in the garage or hanging on the back porch of most houses, no matter how modern they were. Those housewives had gone through the Depression, and they didn't let go of anything that might come in handy if times got hard again.
|Galvanized tub and scrub board|
My great-grandmother was finally persuaded to use a crank wringer from Sears, which made laundry day a little easier by eliminating hand-wringing each piece of clothing. Her wringer clamped onto the side of the washtub. The arrangement in the photo below was probably considered very elaborate, as many people only had one tub and no special frame for the wringer.
|Wash and rinse tubs with a crank wringer|
In the late 40s and early 50s, most people had automatic wringer washers similar to this one.
While these were a great improvement over a scrub board, wash day was still a time-consuming chore. We're so spoiled to throwing small loads into our washers today that we forget laundry back then was done on one specified day of the week...and for good reason. My mother usually did the wash on Monday. She kept our wringer washer on the enclosed back porch, so she had to wheel it into the kitchen and hook up the hose at the sink. She would fill the tub with hot water, laundry detergent and bleach and start with white clothes. After letting the machine agitate for 15 or 20 minutes and sometimes boiling extra water to keep things nice and hot, she would get a piece of broom handle and lift the steaming clothes from the tub, running them carefully through the wringer and into the sink. Then she would drain the washer, fill it with clean water and bluing and let the white clothes agitate for another 15 minutes or so. After that, it was back through the wringer and into the laundry basket to be hung outdoors on the clothesline. (If the weather was too cold or rainy, clothes were hung on the back porch, in the kitchen and in the bathroom. Most Texas homes did not have basements then, nor do they now.)
Bluing was a liquid that gave clothes a slight blue cast to make them appear whiter. At some point, my mother switched to a laundry detergent called Rinso Blue, which made liquid bluing in the rinse unnecessary.
|Rinso Blue ad|
Then it was time to drain and refill the washer and put in the next load. This cycle of filling, agitating, wringing, draining, refilling, rinsing, wringing and hanging was repeated all day, until all the clothes were clean and brought in from the line.
Wringer washers were really dangerous appliances. I grew up hearing horror stories of people whose hands and hair had been caught in the wringer suffering serious injuries before the machine could be turned off. I wasn't allowed anywhere near the washing machine. Instead, I was stationed at our chrome dinette with a coloring book and a 48-pack of Crayolas and told to stay put.
I still remember how excited my mother was when her first front-loading automatic washer was delivered. A woman from the county extension office (a government agency that, among other duties, taught homemakers to use new technology) came out the next day to show my mother how to operate the machine.
|Westinghouse Laundromat, c. 1950|
|Close-up of the Westinghouse Laundromat door|
We didn't have a TV yet, so I'd pull up a chair and watch the clothes go round and round. Yes, life was different back then. Though we often think of it as a simpler, easier time, the work could be hard and the entertainment limited...but a lot less so with the introduction of the Laundromat into our household.