Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Makin’ the Bed and Doin’ the Laundry

by | July 24, 2009 | 18 comments

Back before there was a Sleep Center or Laundromat people had to make do with what they had.

Making a rope bed:
If wood and hemp weren’t available to make a rope bed, they would make a pallet on the floor. A rope bed consisted of a bed frame made of four posts and four side boards. Holes were bored through the sides every nine or ten inches and rope or cording woven in and out of the holes back to front and side to side making a grid. Then sacking or ticking was used to make the casing for the mattress and it was either filled with straw or feathers from ducks or geese. If straw was used they would take out the old and put in new every year at threshing time. If there wasn’t any grain to be threshed they might take it out and let it air in the sun for a day and then put it back in after they washed the ticking.

Washing clothes:

If a person found themselves traveling far from towns, the best way to clean clothes would be to beat them on rocks near a stream. Where they could be dunked, the dirt smacked out of them, and then dunked again and hung up to dry on bushes or rocks.

Did you know that dirt was rinsed and beat out of clothes before they were put in the boiling water? They did this to not set the stains with the hot water. One way to do this if there wasn’t a washboard around was a rough board raised on legs. The garment being washed was dunked in water, placed on the board and beat with a paddle, shoving the dirt and water out of the cloth and into the grooves in the board. This was done thoroughly, the garment was rinsed, turned over and beat again, making sure the stains and dirt were gone before they were put in the soapy water and boiled. After twenty minutes of stirring the garments to make sure the soap had filtered through it all, they were lifted out with a square, long-handled paddle and put in a barrel or tub of fresh clean water, rinsed and put in another tub of fresh water, then hung up to dry.

A heavy cast iron kettle was usually used for boiling the clothes. A fire was built under the kettle after a bucket or two of water was added, so as not to crack the kettle from the heat. As the water continued to heat, buckets were added until the right amount was in the kettle and the water boiled. Wood had to be kept under the kettle to keep it hot.

The long paddles were made of pine because it was a light wood. The long handled paddle for stirring the garments had a square handle. This kept the handle from spinning in their hands when they pulled a heavy object out of the kettle and less clean garments were dropped on the ground. The paddle end had rounded corners to make sure the kettle could be scraped thoroughly to get all garments out of the water before it was dumped out.

I can say after reading about how they did laundry I’m thankful for my washer and dryer. Research and digging up how people did things in the past is one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical books.

The latest review for Miner in Petticoats has made my entire month. The reviewer gave it a Top Review Pick and had this to say:

“Miner in Petticoats is rich in character and setting and reading it feels a bit like taking a walk through a history museum. I’ve read a lot of American historical fiction and felt this story was well-researched. The set up was interesting and believable and the conflict was strong. I felt there was good character development and enjoyed the children’s characters.”


  1. Helen Hardt

    Congratulations on the review!

    It amazes me how much work went into the things we take for granted today. Interesting post!

  2. Paty Jager

    Thanks! Yes, I don't think I would have had the gumption to do that much to wash one piece of clothing. LOL

  3. Susan Macatee

    Great review, Paty!

    And yes, I might complain about doing my family's wash, but compared to what they had to go through in the past, I have it easy.

  4. Paisley Kirkpatrick

    Great information here. I have need to know this as one of my characters is a hotelier and it is good to see how making beds and laundry is done. Thanks!

  5. Nicole McCaffrey

    I'm tired just from reading about it, LOL. Thank Heaven for modern day appliances!


    I cannot believe how lucky I am to be living today.


  7. Paty Jager

    Susan, Nicole, Paisley, and Loretta, I agree, we are very lucky and I'll not complain about laundry or folding clothes again! It's no wonder one day a week was set aside to do this chore.

  8. Cate Masters

    Whew, I'm glad I live in this century. Doing laundry sounds like an all-day job!
    Congrats on the great review, Paty!

  9. Kathy Otten

    Sorry to be stopping by so late, but I just got out of work. Fascinating information. My mother bought an old 4-poster rope bed many years ago a an auction. One day my brother decided he was no longer going to share a room, got out the rope bed and set it up by himself in the spare room. I believe he had some sort of tool to tighten the ropes. He slept in that bed until he got married.

  10. Margaret Tanner

    Hi Paty,
    Intresting post. Fascinating info. I'm glad I didn't have to do the laundry in those days. I can remember my grandmother used to boil a copper to do her washing in. She couldn't get the hang of washing machines and said they didn't get things as clean as the copper did


  11. Mary E. Trimble

    Very interesting, Paty. Now we know why people wore clothes at least a week before washing them! When I was first married, I used a wringer washer–I thought that was primitive!

  12. Anonymous

    Hi Paty,
    I love the pictures but wonder where they came from? Perhaps a museum near you that you haunt regularly? It is easy to see why, in small towns or big ones, laundry was doled out to the local Chinese, Mexican or Indian laborers! So time and energy consuming! Welcome to WWW.

  13. Teresa Bodwell

    I always wonder how these people managed to have enough hours in their day. Everything took such a long time.

  14. Anonymous

    I still do not understand why clothes were boiled. It's not clear in your blog. I got the part about stains, but why boil clothes?

  15. Paty Jager

    Cate, I agree.

    Kathy, it's amazing what siblings will do to get their own space! LOL

    Margaret, I'm sure everyone had their own "favorite" tub for washing like we all have our favorite washing machines.

    Mary, I agree. I'm thankful for my washing machine.

    Arletta, I copied the photos from internet sources.

    I agree Teresa, And I hate vacuuming because it takes so much time.

    An0n- They boiled the clothes to get rid of any "critters"(bugs, fleas). After all they wore the same clothes for a week at a time and only took baths once a week if that.

  16. Virginia

    Congrats on your review!

    This is why I love the modern day things. I am not sure I would want to beat my laundry on rocks.


  17. Danni

    I just got back from Colonial Williamsburg and we say reenactments of how people lived back then, it was very cool! Great review. 🙂

  18. Paty Jager

    Virginia and Danni, Thanks for stopping by!



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