‘Don’t go getting any ideas,’ Lizzie said. ‘I’m too tired. It’s Monday, remember? The wife’s night off.’—from Mud and Gold.
She had earned her good night's sleep. Every Monday, 19th century women like Lizzie spent the whole day on the exhausting task of washing. Water had to be heated to the boil, the clothes scrubbed, then lifted out of the steaming water on a stick (with the constant risk of being badly scalded) and dropped into cold water to be rinsed. Then came the wringing-out, done by hand unless she was lucky enough to have a hand-turned wooden wringer. And then load after load of still damp, heavy clothes had to be hauled to the washing-line to be pegged out, followed by fervent prayers for fine weather to dry them.
At its worst, a woman might have to do the washing down by the creek. That generally meant lighting a fire on the bank to heat water which she would pour into her metal washtub (which probably did service as the family bathtub each Saturday night), and using the creek to rinse the clothes—taking great care not to let any items get swept away downstream. A more fortunate woman might have an outhouse for washing, with a copper tub set into a bricked surround with a firebox underneath, and wooden tubs for the rinsing water. If she was particularly fortunate, she might even have a husband who was willing to help with carrying the wet washing to the clothesline for her.
Wash day was perhaps hardest of all for women with a large number of sons and not a single daughter to help. But none of them would have found the task easy.
And when they fell exhausted into bed at Monday's end, they had Tuesday to look forward to. That meant the ironing...
|Temple, William (Lieutenant-Colonel), 1833-1919. Scene in the bush showing a thatched hut, three people, and washing on a line. Ref: 1/2-004135-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. natlib.govt.nz/records/22718238|