Laundry Down By the River

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Laundry Down By the River
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Here is a story about wash-days in early times and it will prove an eye-opener to the ladies who today use electric washing machines and all the modern paraphernalia of wash-day.
It appears that between the 1840s and 1850s  many of the women used to wash their clothes in the river. The clothes were carried down in wicker clothes baskets. Then the clothes were put into a shallow natural basin near the shore. There was a current of water over this basin and the dirty wash water was thus carried away.
After the clothes had been put in the natural basin, they were thoroughly rubbed with soft soap or other lather-making soap and then then were pounded with a wooden pallet or heavy wooden stick till the dirt was pounded out of them. Then they were rinsed (the ladies will knew the process) and finally taken home, where they were hung out to dry on a clothesline in the backyard.
The reason that the river was used for washing, instead of the back yard at home, was chiefly because of the cost of water. Water cost 12 cents per barrel and most people in that era were poor, and kept the bought water as far as possible for drinking. Every house In those days had its rain-water barrels and the rain, water was used for all purposes except drinking.
There was no particular day was wash-day and the ladies went to the river with their household washings when it suited them best. Perhaps another reason the ladies went to the river to do their washing was the opportunity it gave them to meet the neighbours and hear all the latest neighbourhood gossip.
The women used to claim that clothes washed in the Ottawa river were cleaner than those washed at home, because of the unlimited amount of rinsing water available. Three, four or five women would wash at the one place side by side, and the washing process was made less onerous because of the talk that could be indulged in as the washing went on.

 

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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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