‘Wash Day’ Depended on the Weather


(From Something Money Can’t Buy, available at any White County library)



ontrary to the nursery rhyme, Monday was not always washday when I was growing up.  The weather determined the day Mama did the wash.  In the winter, she tried to find a sunny day so the clothes would be dry enough to take in before dark.  Sometimes it would be so cold they would freeze dry.  In the summer she looked for a day when it wasn’t threatening rain.   She had a thing about leaving the clothes on the line overnight.

On washday, Mama got up early to get everything ready. She had to draw water from the well to fill the wash pot, build a fire under the pot to heat the water, put the tubs on the wash bench and fill them with water.  In one tub she swished the rag with ball bluing in it until the water was blue.  In the water in the wash pot she shaved a cake of homemade lye soap.   Then she had to make the starch.  She made a paste of Argo starch and cold water then added boiling water and stirred it until it was transparent.

The clothes were sorted into about three piles.  There were the white clothes in one pile, the colored clothes in another, and then the rags.  They were washed in that order. 

When the water in the pot was hot, she dipped some out into one of the tubs where the clothes were scrubbed on the rub board.  They were then put in the wash pot and poked down in the soapy water with a cut-off broom handle to boil.  When they had finished boiling, they were rinsed in clear water and then in the bluing water.  The white shirts were starched first when the starch was thick; only the collars, cuffs and front facing of the shirt were starched.  Then the starch was thinned down before starching the other clothes.

I always wanted to help, but I was too young to do much.  I was allowed to rub some of the small pieces on the rub board and I could hang the rags on the fence or hand Mama the clothespins.  I usually ended up with skinned knuckles from rubbing the clothes on the rub board.  She had a special apron for her clothespins.  She never left them out on the line in the weather because they would mildew and leave a black mark on the clothes.  I remember one time a wren built a nest in the clothespin apron when it was hanging on the porch.  Mama sent to town for some more clothespins so she wouldn’t disturb the nest.

After the washing was finished, the soapy water was used to scrub the porch, and if it was summer time, the rinse water was used to water the flowers.

One summer when I was about 12, my aunt was sick and Mama took my brother and went to help take care of her.  She left me at home with Papa.  While she was gone I decided I would do the washing.  After all, I had helped some and I had watched until I thought I knew how. I worked all day long.  How I struggled with the sheets, trying to wring them by hand and hang them on the line.  I decided right then that washday was not a fun day.

We finally got an electric washer to replace the rub board.  We still had to draw water from the well and heat it in the wash pot to put in the washer, and we still had to have the tubs of rinse water, but that was easier than the way Mama did it for so many years.  Mama did have the luxury of an automatic washer before she died, but she still had to hang the clothes on the line to dry and so Monday was not always washday.

This story reminds me of a column in the Arkansas Gazette by Charles Allbright titled “Grandma’s Receet For Washing Clothes.”


1. bild fire in backyard to het kettle of rainwater.

2. set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is peart.

3. shave hole cake lie sope in bilin water.

4. sort things in 3 piles.  1 pile white, 1 pile cullord, 1 pile work britches and rags.

5. stur flour in cold water to smooth, then thin down with bilin water.

6. rub dirty spots on board.  Scrub hard.  Then bile, rub cullord but don’t bile, just rench and starch.

7. take white things out of kettle with broom stick handel then rench, blew and starch.

8. spread tee towels on grass

9. hang old rags on fence.

10. pore rench water in flower beds.

11. scrub porch with hot sopy water.

12. turn tubs upside down.

13. go put on cleen dress, smooth hair with side combs, brew cup of tea, set and rock a spell and count blessins.


Today I can count my blessings because we have automatic washers, dryers and permanent press clothes and washday can be any day or night.


Alice Black Turner of Searcy washes her family clothes in the days before Maytag and Whirlpool, circa 1900. When she married Oscar A. Jones of Jackson, TN, he took her to Tennessee and bought her one of the first washing machines.  Alice was the daughter of Julian Ann (McMillian) and Charles William Turner, and the grandmother of former White County Historical Society president Eddie Best, who provided the pictures.    If you have information on this McMillian, Turner or Jones family, contact Eddie at the Historical Society at P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145.