I may not be aware of other household routines, but when I was young – long ago – Monday was religiously accepted as “wash day.”
For decades, each day was a definite chore day. In 1620, our ancestors happened to arrive on these shores on a Monday, and set to work washing clothes soiled on their long voyage.
My Mother’s ancestors were of that colony, actually the fourth trip over, but Monday wash days must have been set aside as wash day by them.
Today, as we deal weekly, or even daily, with clothes in some manner, ponder over the no-iron materials in today’s clothes and quickly attend to the automatic washer, do we even realize what our ancestors used as tools to do the laundry?
In the days of my youth, one full day was required to do the laundry.
When I would arise at 7 a.m. to prepare for school, my Mother would have breakfast ready and the clothes already soaking in the galvanized tub of clean water that I had filled, bucket by bucket, the night before. Actually, there were three tubs, one to soak the clothes to loosen the dirt, one to scrub by hand in soapy water and one to rinse the clothes.
My Mother used a scrub board well into the 1930s when she finally bought her first Maytag washing machine.
Our pioneer folks also had to make their own soap. They usually began the chore by collecting wood ashes – the main ingredient to make lye soap.
Usually one of the first items built after a house was constructed, was an ash or leach hopper to hold wood ashes. Large quantities of wood ash from the cooking and heating fires were poured into the hopper.
Then, enough water to leach was poured into the ashes to “set the leach.” Some old timers judged by the ability of an egg or potato to float on top, if about a half inch of either remained above the water, the lye water was ready.
When the lye was ready, it was stirred in a large pot with salvaged grease from cooking and rendering. Ingredients were guess work or from memory – usually an average was three bushels of ashes to 12 pounds of grease, which yielded about a half barrel of soap.
The phrase “soft soap” undoubtedly came from this soap. Before the ingredients cooked entirely, some was removed for baths – “soft soap” it was called. Into this soft soap, people worked in some natural herbs to create fragrance. In areas where bayberry grew wild, this fruit was used for fragrance, other folks used sassafras.
Old wash pots and scrub boards are popular items among today’s collectors. The ridged scrub boards were made of several materials, the more enduring the board, the longer it lasted.
Galvanized metal is often the most typical material found, although wood, glass, brass, granite were also used.
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