The plain folks (Old Order Mennonites and Amish) in the Finger Lakes still regard Monday’s as wash day and you will notice wash hanging out on the clothes line which is usually strung from their homes to the barn or any other nearby convenient support. Most folks today have an automatic wash machine and an electric a clothes dryer in their homes and can’t understand how one could survive without these two appliances.
Jeanette wondered the same thing as we passed a farm the other day with the clothes out on the line. It was a cold day but there on the line, hung the families freshly washed clothes. There is nothing that smells better than washed clothes or sheets that have been hung out on the line to dry with the sun and the wind as nature’s clothes dryer. When I was growing up on the farm in the fifties, an automatic washer and electric dryer were a luxury. My mother hung out her laundry on two lines that were strung between two locust trees near the house.
There were times when it was too cold and the clothes would freeze. The frozen clothes would have to be brought inside and then hung on a wooden clothes dryer which was located in the kitchen. Modern renditions of these clothes dryers can still be purchased from Leman’s in Kidron Ohio (right click here). They were made out of wood and attached to the wall either in the kitchen or near hot air registers in the house. When not in use, the close dryer lay flat against the wall, but when needed, one would swing the wooden dryer out perpendicular to the wall and then spread the wooden arms apart.
One thing that I have asked myself is “why was/is Monday the universal washing day for rural American women?” In one account that I read, washing clothes was a religious act of celebrating the ascension of Jesus into heaven on the third day. Since the Crucifixion is celebrated on Fridays, the ascension would have occurred on a Monday and as Christians, we were washed clean of all our sins. I suspect that the more practical explanation is that Sunday’s are regarded as a day of rest and since clothes washing in rural America is a very labor intensive (right click here), the women used Sunday to go to church, make Sunday meals, and be with family. Mondays then became the natural time for women to take on this labor intensive task of washing the family’s clothes.