Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Happened to Ironing? and Washing?

A while back Megan McArdle got into an exchange with other bloggers and commenters about changes in technology which helped women.  The focus was on the kitchen, as I recall. I don't recall whether she was taking the side which said improvements since 1950 had been a big help to the homemaker (a word which may show my age) or whether she denied that.[Updated: here's a link to her post, arguing against Cowen that kitchen technology has changed.]

Anyhow I was remembering the cycles which I've experienced over my life: one of which was the weekly housewife cycle of the 1940's and 50's.  Monday was washday, Tuesday was ironing, cleaning and baking came later in the week.Which led me to muse on the changes.

Mom had a wringer washer: she rolled it into the kitchen from the "old kitchen", filled it with water (which she'd heated on the stove, since our hot water supply was limited, or nil in summer), and put in the clothes and let it agitate away.  Then she'd take the clothes from the water and put them through the wringer a few times to get the soapy water out, and put them into a washtub of clean water (actually the process varied a bit over the 20 years or so I'm remembering) to rinse, then back through the wringer to get the rinse water out.  Meanwhile she'd start the next load, probably the colors, washing.  The rinsed clothes would  be hung on the  clothesline, outside.  Towards Monday evening or maybe Tuesday morning, she'd gather the clothes off the line.

Because this was before the days of permanent press, all the clothes, except underwear, and all the linens would have to be ironed, which would take up the next day. We still had the old irons around, I mean the iron "irons", which had to be heated on the stove and then applied to the clothes.  But mom had an electric iron so she rarely had to use the old irons.  I learned to iron when in I was in college, took me probably 10 minutes to iron a shirt, not being very well coordinated. It seems to me her ironing was faster, though because dad wore overalls and wasn't a white collar worker her job was lighter than those of many other homemakers.

Compare that with today's permanent press, washers and driers.  Other than loading and unloading the appliances and folding the dried clothes there's no work at all, well, almost none.

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