I am a Laundry Girl



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Dear Ellen,

As I have written you before I have found work in a local laundry here in Perth. Please don’t have visions of  sunlight and happiness as it’s actually located in a cramped kitchen. I was told yesterday to feel lucky as they used to have to work in a dark tenement courtyard next door.

I wash clothes all day long in dolly tubs with a dolly stick. There are also tall tubs in which large items are stirred and beaten with dollies or a plunger on a long handle. The water is heated in a large metal boiler on a stove with extra pots boiling over an outdoor fire. It provides ample washing water for the tubs and  we are watched carefully as our soap has to be used very economically.

We have to carefully mix it into the hot water for the main wash, but everyday linen is still cleaned with an ash lye. We make our own soap, which is a week-long operation involving making lye, rendering tallow, and combining them to make the soap.  We use plenty of ashes and fat,  and when it turns warm and dry we use salt to set the soap. The soap is then cured for at least three months, so we use it sparingly. Lots of soft water is needed for the washing, so  we also collect rainwater to use for the washing if at all possible.

Our laundry takes in both both domestic laundry and linen from the local hotels. We also offer a “wet wash” which is tackling bags of dirty linen and clothes for a small payment and returning them still damp.Most of the ironing is then done by the customers at home. The lady in charge tries to keep our prices down as there are quite a few mangle woman. With a box mangle they charge pennies for pressing household linen and everyday clothing.

Last year a government study by the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor found that some wet washes were “unsanitary”.  Because the laundry was sometimes washed in nets, bundle by bundle, this prevented “the proper application of disinfectants, soap, water, and heat”. Keeping the laundry damp in bags for a long time added to hygiene problems they said.

A preparation for a particular load of washing begins a few days beforehand as there is mending to do beforehand and the best part of any day is when the clothes are on the line–  unless the line or the pegs are dirty, when the clothes may need washing again.

The ironic part of all this dear Ellen is that most families have cleaner clothes than I do as I literally don’t have enough time to wash every week.

Yours in great friendship




Kids these days expect an app (or mom) to do everything for them. Victorian people were hardcore.

Related reading:

Musings about Vibrating Appliances and Other Dirty Laundry

Tales From the Chinese Laundry on Bridge Street

Tales of the Queen’s Underwear and all those “Accidents”

As the World Turns in Carleton Place — Soap and Ground Beef

I will Wash Your Mouth Out with Soap!

What the Heck was Electric Soap? Chatterton House Hotel Registrar


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News


About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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