Coffee-Break: Wash day in late 1940s

Norma, Naomi and I are having an extended conversation about how clothes were washed in the past.  We’re also sharing information about how we care for the clothing we make.

This video from YouTube shows the drudgery a British housewife feels during a typical wash day in the late 1940s.  As the video progresses, we see the new appliances that were coming onto the market.  The narrator offers tips on how to organize and plan for laundry day so that the time and effort are used efficiently and to maximum effect.

I recommend this video not only as an extension of the conversation.  It shows just how much a housewife in the past had to know.  The expectations were very high.  Learning how to use the different types of washing and pressing devices required clarity and attention to detail.

Housework really was a form of domestic engineering or domestic science.  We need to rethink and look at the level of discipline the role took and the quality of life the homemaker created for her family.  I don’t think families appreciated all the little details a mother did like press tablecloths, towels and sheets.  My Mom refused to get to that level of detail but my Grandmother did.  Today, the place where I can experience neatly pressed and folded sheets and towels would be in a hotel.  And that comes with a price well over $100+ a night, even at a budget hotel.



9 thoughts on “Coffee-Break: Wash day in late 1940s

  1. I was just talking about the term “home economics” the other day. Certainly some elements that should be retained were thrown out with the dirty laundry water. It’s nice to think that people are being more intentional these days and considering what we can learn from the past. Loving this extended conversation you are hosting EA!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Naomi. This conversation ties in with the book “Simple Abundance”. In some chapters the thought for the day is to consider housework as “housecaring”. The home and our daily routine are extensions and expressions of ourselves. We can make our daily activities a form of creativity, meditation, concentration and growth. I’m enjoying this because it reminds me we can do things for ourselves if we prioritize and use our time wisely.

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  2. I loved the film. What a skilled job laundry was in those days.
    I remember my mother had a washing machine rather like that when I was small and there was a great big set of tongs for taking out each piece of laundry. I didn’t know all the detail of how it was done though – she got an automatic washing machine as soon as she could.
    Mind you, I would miss watching my washing blowing on the line outside if I had one of those drying cupboards.


    • Sorry for the delay in replying, Norma. There is more to come. My package of supplies for the 1930s dress has gone missing. It contains what I think is the perfect interfacing for the lightweight challis I’m using. Plus it has a few other things I have to wait on. I found an interesting description of washday in a the English country towns of late 19th century. I’ll post about that. This is a very productive conversation.

      There is nothing like air dried clothing. I wish we could have clothes lines again. Now it’s considered a mark of working class poverty. I admire the new Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants who stick to their clothes lines and continue to use them on their houses. We have one whole block where the laundry flutters in the breeze as clothes dry on the lines from each house. The entire block is almost all Asian and I give them credit for not paying attention to these ideas that line drying clothes is a mark of the poor.

      Liked by 1 person

      • How terrible for your package to have gone astray after all the effort you put into finding the right items. Hope it turns up soon.
        I love line drying. I love to see it flapping in the wind. I even have an undercover line for bad weather

        Liked by 1 person

      • Think my reply has gone astray. If you get two I can only apologise.
        Sad your package has gone astray. I hope it turns up soon.
        I love line drying. I even have an undercover line for bad weather. I like to watch it flapping in the breeze.

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      • Yes! There’s something homey about clothes lines, courtyards and drying clothes on a sunny day.

        I have to be patient and follow-up on the package. It’s still hot and humid here so I’m not in the mood to start sewing. The time has been well spent. I found matching green glass buttons from a seller of vintage things on Etsy. I’m very excited an will post about it.


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