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Hating laundry? Read this.

By Melissa Young

towelsI came across this letter from a pioneer woman to her daughter while visiting the Smithfield historical museum with my children. It’s an instructive letter on how to do laundry. I loved it so much that I took a photo of the transcription, typed it up, framed it, and hung it next to my washer and dryer.

There’s a lot to love about this letter: her plucky attitude, the delightful spelling, the way she uses water, the counting of blessin’s. I love that the daughter needed the letter, because I asked my own mom oh-so-many times what temperature the colors should go on and how much detergent to use and what should I use to get out grass stains.

I like to imagine what this woman would have thought if I’d told her that her letter would be framed on my wall in the year 2009.

It makes me think I should write more letters.

And be happy with my front loader.

“Build a fire in the backyard to het kettle of rain water. Set tube so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert.

Shave one hole cake lie sope in biling water.

Sort things. Make three piles, one pile white, one pile cullord, one pile britches and rags.

Stir flour in cold water to smooth, then thin down with biling water.

Rub dirty spots on bord, then bile. Rub cullords but don’t bile. Just rench and starch. Take white things out of kettle with broom handel, then rench, blew and starch.

Spread tee towels on grass. Hang old rags on fense.

Pour rench water on flower bed. Scrub porch with sopy water. Scrub privee, seat and floor with sopy water caught from porch scrub.

Turn tubs upside down.

Go put on clean dress. Smooth hair with side combs. Set and rest a spell and count blessins.”

About Melissa Young

(Emerita) is a native of Utah and lives in Cache Valley, Utah, with her husband and three of her four children in their emptying nest. She has an MA in TESOL from Brigham Young University and currently volunteers with the English Learning Center.

39 thoughts on “Hating laundry? Read this.”

  1. My favorite part is 'set and rest a spell and count blessins.' Amen and she deserved it!

    My great grandmother had nine daughters and I had the same grateful response when I read her journal about laundry day: washing and ironing all of those dresses/petticoats for 10 women every week! Ouch. (Granted, I think she enlisted her daughters' help…)

  2. Love it, love it love it. I am sitting here dreading the folding I have to do when the dryer behind me is done, when I have to switch the second batch from the washer. Ugh. I need this on my wall, too. Thanks!

  3. Wow. Doing laundry is actually one of my favorite chores. But it wouldn't be if I had to do it that way.
    Loved this post—thanks for the reminder to "count blessins," including the blessing of modern appliances.

  4. I love this post. It reminds me of my mother-in-law who lives in rural Mexico. While she does have a washing machine, she still prefers to do all of her laundry by hand, outside in the concrete washboard. After our visit there this summer, I have a whole new appreciation for my washer and dryer.

  5. Weird. My great aunt has that exact "letter" on a wooden plaque that looks to be about 50 years old. It also hangs above her washer (altho I hope at age 85 she has it figured out by now).

  6. I used to think that my joy would be full if I could just have a laundry room. Now I think I'm entirely grateful for the washer and dryer even if they are just in the cobwebby and cold garage. No more complaints here

  7. A few years ago my 95 year old abuela came out of my parent's laundry room shaking her head. "It's just a miracle, just a miracle," she said.
    "What?" I asked.
    "When I was your age we'd all have to walk down to the river and wash the clothes on rocks. Those machines? Miracles!"

    (But it's still my least favorite chore.)

  8. I still think we should emulate their habit of wearing only 2 or 3 outfits a week. Between sports clothing, pajamas, school clothes, church clothes and grubbies x 8, I'm all washed out.

  9. Reminds me (just a bit) of washing my clothes by hand on a washboard as a missionary. I think I shall "set and rest a spell and count blessins" right now. Thank you.

  10. Do you think I could, "Go put on clean dress. Smooth hair with side combs. Set and rest a spell and count blessins," after more than just laundry?

    I too washed all my clothes by hand on my mission. Sheets generally took two people to ring out. It was quite the experience. I still can't figure out how I managed to lose a sock in the wash that way though.

  11. Michelle, don't forget all the clean clothes that "accidentally" make it back into the dirty clothes hamper. That drives me crazy.

    Have you ever noticed that Michelle Duggar dresses her kids in uniforms and that there is only one closet that everyone in the whole house shares? It's right next to the laundry room and everything is arranged according to size. That woman is brilliant. (except for the 19 kids thing. Not so brilliant.)

  12. Jennie, I think my kids do that regularly so they don't have to put their clothes away. I think it sometimes goes straight from their folded laundry basket into the hamper. It makes me want to give them one outfit they have to wear every single day. Either that or scream.

  13. Had to wash my clothes by hand in a bucket, on my mission in Argentina. We used a giant bar of pink soap and scrubbed with our hands, till we had blisters on our knuckles! Oh I didn't like p-day! I always said I'd never complain about laundry again when I got home! Thanks for the reminder I need to "count my blessins!"

  14. Oh, I'm all for the "uniforms"–we have things streamlined to 7-10 days of clothing for each person, and yes, we have "going out" outfits and "staying home" outfits, so I don't have to wash everything every week. A full week of socks and undies for our family of six will still leave room in the washer, so that's nice.

    I'm very glad to live now, for the most part.

    (And did you know that historically, hiring out laundry was one of the very first things a household did as they climbed up the working class scale? Frontier women were sometimes doing their own laundry for the first time in their lives… must have been a shock!)

  15. I'm another RM who did the laundry by hand thing. I actually liked it. Made me feel…I don't know…something. It also helped me get through a few busy times in college — if I didn't have time to do laundry, I wouldn't think twice about washing a pair of garments by hand. 😉

    Sometimes, I envy their simpler lives. Even as we have the machines, we also have the complexity of our lives to match the complexity of technology we enjoy.

    I love our times, really, but I think if we should give ourselves a little slack for the fact that just because we have laundry machines doesn't mean that our lives don't have their difficulties (and responsibilities!), unique to our day. I often stop to think about something Pres. Kimball (I think?) said about having these time-saving devices — we should be using the time well. That sobers me!

  16. Love this! Laundry is one of my "preferred" chores, meaning I'll do the laundry if DH does the dishes. I don't think it would be if it took as much effort as the pioneer woman describes!

  17. Our laundry soap in Brazil was blue. And I can never thank my Brazilian companion who introduced me to the laundry brush enough (it was like a giant nail brush, but it saved my poor, bleeding knuckles from scrubbing). She also showed me how to dry a few items of clothing on the coils behind our refrigerator during the cold, humid winter. Thanks for reminding me to count my blessings–with 4 little ones, I am indeed greatful for a washer & dryer!

  18. Love it.

    The letter, not so much my laundry.

    Though I do love wind dried sheets in spring…

    I love she reminded "Turn tubs upside down." (I have to do instructions like that for some of my family members…)

  19. It certainly puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I'd love to have that posted in my laundry room, too.

    Jennie, I hate to jump on your comment about Michelle Duggar, but I am absolutely tired of members of the Church making snide comments about that family. The fact that their family has 19 kids has a lot less to do with Michelle's intelligence than it does that they have the courage to live by their convictions, including one where they believe birth control is not pleasing to Heavenly Father. Whether or not you agree with her religious principles should be beside the point. We expect others to respect our religion and our peculiarities, including our own tendency towards large families, yet we are quick to laugh and point fingers at a family who is obviously doing all that they can to live by their own spiritual convictions. They love their children and have done everything they can to provide what they believe their children need. That should be applauded, not scorned. You don't have to agree with the way they raise their family, but don't insult her intelligence.

    Perhaps I'm just sensitive because of the negative attitudes I've encountered among other LDS members as my husband and I welcome our own large family (we're having #8), but please, girls, respect a woman who is doing everything she can to raise a good family in a tough world. She gets enough hatred and scorn and contempt in the larger world; can't we give her some credit?

  20. There actually wasn't a date or an attribution on the letter. It was a simple, typed transcription labeled "letter from a pioneer woman to her daughter" that I photographed. I'm wondering now with Kristina's comment if it's not even tied to that area. Still love it, though.

  21. I love the image of the grandma coming out of the laundry room exclaiming what a miracle the washer and dryer are. I remember thinking about modern appliances when I was a missionary.

    I too served a South American mission (Peru) and learned to clean my clothes, sheets and blankets by hand–only we were taught to use our wrists so as not to wear out the knuckles. Very helpful. And we used brushes and big hunks of soap.

    I have five kids (love Michelle Duggar, btw) and therefore do at least a load a day. What changed my attitude about laundry was actually a trip to Spain.

    I tried to hand wash our clothes and dry them on the line provided in the shower of the hotel. Nothing dried in that humidity. I had to break down and pay for the laundry service. When our clothes came back in a lovely basket folded like they were a gourmet meal reaady to eat, it changed the way I folded my clothes. Instead of a sloppy mess of quickly folded clothes, I now created a bit of order and beauty–however fleeting. Suddenly I felt a bit of joy folding.

    But I still hate putting away and I don't do socks!

    Countin' my blessings!

  22. Reminded me of "These is My Words" by Nancy Turner. Although I would sometimes rather take on primitive laundry chores if I could do away with modern trials that come with internet and TV.

    Handsfullmom, Thank you for defending the Duggars (although the dig sounded like a joke). We have only four children and just yesterday I fielded questions from a friend about whether Mormons had a baby limit and if we were expecting baby #17 by now.

  23. My Mother-in-law (from Uruguay) tells me they had to break the ice in the river to wash the clothes (by the river!). They'd pound stubborn stains with a rock, bleach clothes in the sun and when it was humid or too cold, they had to hang them all over in the house. My machines are truly a miracle. Even more amazing is when I see perfectly operational machines in the free section of craigslist because someone upgraded.


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