Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, April 30, 2012


Welcome back to History Undressed, guest author Jennifer Jakes! If you didn't visit her previous posts, you should: Miss Kitty Lied (Prostitutes) & They Did What??? (Historical Vibrators). Today she is enthralling us yet again with the life of a laundress. Fascinating!


by Jennifer Jakes

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Naughty, naughty. *insert Tsk here* And while I will touch upon some of the “horizontal” work a Laundress could do to earn a little extra money, the main part of this post deals with the long hours of the world’s other oldest profession: Scrubbing clothes.

As a Civil War Re-enactor, I chose the Army Laundress as my portrayal. When I found this historical photo of a woman, her husband and three children, I focused on recreating her look and the look of her camp for mine. (My husband is a Corp. in a small artillery unit and two our daughters re-enact with us.) So I wanted to share some of the information I discovered while researching this Army occupation. Yep, you read that right. The Army Laundress was employed by the Union Army. (The Confederate Army quite possibly did the same, but my research was for the Union.) All info from: Civil War Times, Aug. 1999 - including historic photo - and Laundry Handbook by Virginia Mescher

*Appointed by the captain of the company, the first thing he assigned the laundress was her letter of good character. She was the only woman granted official status in the army camp. All others – including officers’ wives – were considered Camp Followers.
*She was usually married to or related to one of the lower ranking soldiers. Her tent was set apart from the men – and if she was married to a soldier, he normally stayed with her on Suds Row.
*While most laundresses seemed respectable enough, there were a few who made “lots of money nature’s way. One of them had a bill today against a soldier for forty dollars.” –  Quote from a private, 2nd Minnesota Infantry. (Wow! That’s a lot of scrubbing up and down on. . .  something! Bet it wasn’t his socks. *wink* ) Such improper behavior was grounds for dismissal UNLESS the company captain chose to look the other way.
*One such “energetic” washer woman could make upwards of $40 per month. A true laundress who actually washed clothing, made about $7- $12. per month. Combined with her husband’s pay of about $13 per month, the couple could earn a good amount for that day.
*The washer woman received a tent, daily rations of food and services of the surgeon. (These must have been the perks of the job. Unless you were the woman who made……..nevermind.)

Laundry was not a one day event for women of this time. It could take up to three days to complete all the steps. Here they are in order:
Mending – Yes, dirty clothes
Stain Removal
Soaking – Which would mean this and all of the above steps would be done on (example) Monday and left overnight to soak.
Washing(read Scrubbing) and/or Boiling – 1 wash, 1 boil, 1 rinse meant at least 50 gallons of water. (Hope they camped near a creek.)
Rinsing – 3 rinses were customary (think of wringing each piece – esp. those wool uniforms – by hand! Yes, some laundresses did have wringer (a clothes squeezer), but most outside of hospital workers did not.)
Bluing – This was used for whites. Bluing does not bleach the clothes, but once added to the final rinse, gave the illusion of “white”.
Bleaching –If the Bluing did not make the white items as white as desired, they could either be laid in the sun to sun-bleach or a chemical bleach could be used. A common chemical used was Ammonia. The most common source of ammonia was STALE URINE! (Bet those clothes smelled nice and freshly laundered. Not!)
Starching – Starch helped keep dirt from being ground into the material. Remember, these men or women did not change clothes daily. Sometimes, not even weekly.
Drying – Hopefully the laundress had a place to string a clothes line. Otherwise, clothes would be spread on the ground or on top of shrubs. (This ended Day 2 of washing.)
Sprinkling – After the clothes were dry, the starched items were sprinkled with water, rolled up and allowed to absorb the water so they were damp. This softened the starch and made clothes easier to iron.
Ironing – Flat or Sad irons (sad meant heavy) and it took 1 ½ hrs to heat a 6 pound iron. Laundresses kept several “irons in the fire” as she couldn’t wait 1 ½ each time an iron cooled. (I suspect this is where the saying too many irons in the fire came from.) They didn’t really put the iron in the fire though as that would have meant streaking soot over clean clothes so they used upside down frying pans set on the fire grate. I suppose the women might have brought their own Trivit from home. Anyway, ironing costs a soldier about 3 cents per shirt.
Airing – This was an important step as the clothes were still damp after ironing and they were folded damp, they would crease and if the weather was warm, mildew.
Folding – Even women doing laundry at home folded as most “poor to middle class” didn’t have closets.
 OK, I could go on and on with interesting facts but for now……….Go kiss your washing machine and dryer!

After trying several careers—everything from a beautician to a dump truck driver—Jennifer finally returned to her first love, writing. Maybe it was all those Clint Eastwood movies she watched growing up, but in her opinion there is no better read than a steamy western historical.

Married to her very own hero, she lives on fifteen acres along with two beautiful daughters, three spoiled cats, three hyper dogs and one fat rabbit.

During the summer she does Civil War re-enacting and has found it a great research tool, not to mention she has continued appreciation for her microwave and hot water heater.
Her debut novel, RAFE’S REDEMPTION, was a RWA Golden Heart Finalist and Won BEST ROMANCE 2011 at DITHR.

Visit Jennifer Jakes at www.jenniferjakes.com

Jennifer's book, RAFE'S REDEMPTION is up for June iBook Buzz (read and discuss book of the month)!  Leave a comment to win an ecopy and you can participate in the discussion!


He rode into town to buy supplies, not a woman.

For hunted recluse Rafe McBride, the raven-haired beauty on the auction block  is exactly what he doesn't need. A dependent woman will be another clue his vengeful stepbrother can use to find and kill him. But Rafe's conscience won't let him leave another innocent's virginity to the riff-raff bidding. He buys her, promising to return her to St. Louis untouched. He only prays the impending blizzard holds off before her sultry beauty breaks his willpower.

She wanted freedom, not a lover.

Whisked to the auction block by her devious, gambling cousin, and then sold into the arms of a gorgeous stranger, outspoken artist Maggie Monroe isn't about to go meekly. Especially when the rugged mountain man looks like sin and danger rolled into one. But a blizzard and temptation thrust them together, and Maggie yearns to explore her smoldering passion for Rafe.

But when the snow clears, will the danger and secrets that surround Rafe and Maggie tear them apart?


Be Careful What You Wish For. . .

No-nonsense stuntwoman Isabella Douglas will do anything to stop an unwanted divorce and reclaim the happy life she had, even allow her old friend to concoct a magical spell to turn back time. But when the spell goes awry, Izzy finds herself trapped aboard a 1768 Caribbean pirate ship with a captain who’s a dead ringer for her sexy as sin husband, Ian. Convinced he’s playing a cruel joke, she’s furious – until she realizes he doesn’t know her or believe they’re married.

Captain Ian Douglas does not have time to deal with an insane woman who claims to be his wife; he has to save his kidnapped sister. But as Izzy haunts his dreams and fills him with erotic memories he can’t explain, he’s forced to admit he feels more than lust.

Trapped in a vicious cycle of past mirroring present, Izzy knows they only have days to find Ian’s sister and prevent disaster from striking a second time. If she doesn’t, their marriage will be destroyed again – along with the man she loves.


Jennifer Jakes said...

Thanks for having me here again :)

Jen said...

Wow! What fascinating information. This makes me VERY thankful for modern amenities!!!

Sounds like you lead a very interesting life, Jennifer!

Your books sound great! Putting them on my "To Read" list!!

Artemis said...

I have always been thankful for my washing machine and dryer. Of all the modern appliances, those two I can't live without.

Jennifer Jakes said...

Hi Jen-
Thanks! I can honestly say there's never a dull moment around here;)
Glad you enjoyed the excerpts. Good luck in the drawing.

Jennifer Jakes said...

Hi Artemis-
Yes, the novelty of using a scrub board quickly wears off!
Thanks for stopping by and good luck in the drawing.