Monday, December 22, 2008

Just a couple of weeks ago I got a new washing machine, a front loader, and I started thinking about how women's work has changed in my lifetime. I have memories of Mondays at my childhood home, my mother's washday, and laundry was done with a wringer washing machine. Hot water was run into the tank of the machine, the agitator was turned on so the clothes swirled for a few minutes, then rinsed in a tub of clean water, and the wet clothes were put through the wringers at the top of the machine, coming out damp and ready to be hung on the clothes line in the back yard. It was a badge of honor if a housewife could be the first in her neighborhood to have her laundry out on the line on a Monday morning.

A wringer washer was considered dangerous because little fingers could get caught in the rollers, could be smashed as the water was wrung out of the wet clothes. I don't remember ever being asked to help with this work even though there were several steps and it took much of my mother's attention for the Mondays of my youth.

In the basement of my childhood home could be found a washboard, a rough rectangular flat board that previous generations would have used to hand scrub clothes resulting in rough red hands, I'm sure. Perhaps a generation or so before that, women would have carried the family's dirty laundry to an outdoor well or riverside for hand washing. I'm sure that's done in many parts of the world to this day. Women's work has always been labor intensive.

My new washing machine replaces a machine that has served me well for 28 years. In fact, the old machine is still quite functional so I am passing it on so to be used in a friend's house. The improvements over 28 years are amazing! The new machine has a many choices of settings so that clothes can be washed to my exact specifications. A delay option enables the washer to start at my convenience. Tumbling the clothes around and around results in a more gentle process with minimal energy use. Removing the clothes at the end of the process, they are clean, sweet smelling, and barely damp with very little effort on my part.

What are the inventions of the future? Will the next generations have even greater improvements in their lives?

We can only wonder.

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