At Fort Scott, each laundress had to wash the clothes of 15 soldiers. Each soldier's laundry was washed three times a week in the summer and two times a week during the winter, which meant that laundresses were washing clothes six days a week. Each soldier was assigned a number and that number was marked on all of his clothing, This practice enabled the laundresses to keep track of which items of clothing belonged to which soldier.
Laundry was an all day task and involved several steps:
Mending was done either before or after washing, depending on the condition of the item being mended. By mending before washing, tears could be prevented from becoming worse during washing. However, performing repairs could be an unpleasant task if the items were very dirty since they might be stiff or smelly, so sometimes mending was done after the item was clean.
Ironing was an unpleasant task that was done after the day's washing. Then, as now, ironing was done to remove the wrinkles from the fabric. Prior to ironing, the garment would be sprinkled with water to make the fibers softer.
The most common type of iron was the flat iron, which was one solid piece of cast iron. It would be heated by placing it on a trivet over the coals of a fire. After heating, it could be used to iron clothes, but a cloth was required to hold the handle because it would be as hot as the rest of the iron. An ironing cloth was used atop the ironing board so that a smoother surface could be used for ironing, which translated into a smoother surface on the fabric.
* The dolly was sometimes used in the initial wash process instead of the washboard if the clothes were not too dirty.
Information on this page came from Laundry and Cleaning Practices of the Mid-Nineteenth Century by Virginia Mescher, published by Nature's Finest, 1994. Used by permission.
Last updated: July 25, 2016