When you finish reading this article, you’ll hug your washing machine. The majority of mountain families didn’t get electricity hooked up until after World War II. I’ve used two sources for this article, one being advice given to a new bride from her Kentucky grandmother and another being the memories of an Appalachian man.
The Kentucky grandmother wrote the following instructions. Note: This is an exact copy as written and found in an old scrapbook with spelling errors and all.
1. Bilt fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water.
2. Set tubs so smoke wont blow in eyes if wind is pert.
3. Shave one hole cake of lie soap in bilin water.
4. Sort things, make 3 piles. 1 pile white. 1 pile colored. 1 pile work britches and rags.
5. To make starch, stir in cool water to smooth, then thin down with bilin water.
6. Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard and then bile. Rub colored, don’t just rinch and starch.
7. Take things out of kettle with broomstick handle, then rinch and starch.
8. Hang old rags on fence.
9. Spread tea towels on grass.
10. Pore rinch water in flower bed.
11. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.
12. Turn tubs upside down.
13. Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.
The Mountain man heeded his advice, “Washing and Ironing Were Laborious Tasks.”
“Wash day chores began with making sure there was enough wood cut, split, and carried to the backyard to heat the water. My parents would fill a wash tub about half full of water where it ran out of a pipe at the end of the spring box. Washing required 3 tubs of water. One hot, one warm, and the other one cold water. The wash bench was made by turning 3 chairs on their backs and placing 2 boards strong enough to hold the tubs on the chairs. First were the white clothes and sheets.
“Next were the colored clothes with the towels and washcloths washed last. The scrub board was used in the hot water to scrub the clothes clean. The warm water was the first rinse and cold water was for the last rinse. Starch was used as necessary and the starched clothes were hung out on the clothes lines along with the other items. If it was a rainy day, lines were strung in the house.
“When dried the starched clothes had to be sprinkled down with water and rolled into a ball ready for ironing. 3 flat irons were used for ironing. First the bottoms of the irons were cleaned. A fire had to be kept going in the cook stove. One iron was placed on the hottest part of the stove, the 2nd iron on a slightly cooler spot and the 3rd iron on a warm spot. As the irons were used they had to be reheated by placing them back on the stove. Wash day and ironing got much easier after we got electricity in 1952.”