Monday, November 30, 2009

The “One Best Way” to Wash: A Home Economist Explains

In the early 20th century, new household technology was both accomplished and inspired by the tremendous increase in American industrial production. As in industry, mechanization and scientific management were part of a larger reorganization of work. And as in industry, efficient housekeeping was partially a response to labor unrest—both the “servant problem” and the growing disquiet of middle-class wives. A major proponent of the new housekeeping, Christine Frederick was consulting household editor for Ladies Home Journal from 1912 to 1919 and the author of numerous books and pamphlets on scientific management in the home. Frederick’s pamphlet, You and Your Laundry (1922), instructed women in the daunting complexities of washing clothes—a process comprising fifteen different steps. You and Your Laundry also illustrated the close alliance between scientific housework and consumption. Written under the sponsorship of the Hurley Machine Company, Frederick’s pamphlet frequently invoked its brand name and products. The pamphlet ended with a pitch for buying on installment, a payment plan that helped to spur consumption. Read the full article by clicking the link.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Outdoor Afro talks about Old School

Clothesline Photo: Renee Gunter
Clothesline Photo: Renee Gunter
I was going to write about sustainable landscaping – and I still will, but something else came up:
The Laundry.
Washing clothes is actually my least favorite chore right along with mopping the floor, taking out dripping trash, and investigating that “noise” in the middle of the night. Thus, I view the laundry task through a ‘necessary evil’ lens. But I like when it’s done. The problem is, it’s never done! I think I handle laundry fairly well for a household of four, but every time I get the last bit folded and put away on a Sunday night, the basket is already nearly half full with a new load, which is a real buzz kill.
Can’t you tell I could use some excitement in the laundry department?
Photo: Roy Montgomery
Photo: Roy Montgomery
So imagine my delight to stumble upon some countryfied laundry soap, made with old-school attitude by a sustainable minded sister from Los Angeles. And before you go glossy eyed on me: No, this is not an ad…in fact, she doesn’t even know how sprung I am on her mission. Yet.
Renee Gunner
Renee Gunter
I actually heard about Renee Gunter and her sustainable landscaping and water saving from Outdoor Afro community member, birder, and backyard innovator Cindy Hopkins, but when I dug deeper, I found her Old School Brand blog, which is an adventure that takes us back to the days before the soap opera of TIDE improvements to a place I had completely forgotten existed. I admit that I had long ago bought into the jingle’s message that “Tide gets it clean“, but lately I have wondered to myself: at what cost?
Laundry might have taken all day in the basement, or in the backyard back in “Big Mama’s” youth because of the contemporary technology and orthodox methods needed to produce no less than perfectly starched, white collars. But in spite of the toil, it was sustainably done without health and environmental consequences.

Tools of the Trade
Tools of the Trade

How did our grandmothers produce sparkling laundry without chemicals leeching into our water systems?  Or without irritating delicate skin? I have a hunch Ms. Gunter has captured their solution in her soap. She makes the soap in small batches with kind ingredients for use with the modern convenience of a machine.
best friends forever
best friends forever
After reading her blog, I have to admit I felt like a laundry wimp who has conveniently avoided the real deal of laundry duty experienced by the women of my heritage. Her blog chronicles the presence and skill of African American women in the activity of cleaning laundry, and hanging it to dry outside, with some gorgeous historic photos.  She writes about the matriarchs of her family, all of whom were maids who migrated from Arkansas to the Los Angeles area, and recalls sitting and watching the meticulous cleaning her mom and aunts did for wealthy whites that relied more on skills and sweat equity than on products.
Laundry in the Sunshine
Laundry in the Sunshine
So to gain some laundry cred, I am ordering Old School Brand soap this week! And when I get it, maybe I’ll go a bit further to save quarters, reduce my household footprint on the environment, and let the unmentionables hang outdoors for the sun to bleach, and all the neighbors to see, as one more way to help make the world healthier.
For more information: Old School Laundry Soap
Click Picture to Order
Old School Laundry Soap $10
Old School Laundry Soap
. Bar B said: Sounds like a wonderful product. This post took my mind back to my own days of going with my great-grandmother, and sitting and watching her clean and work for a wealthy white woman out in San Rafael. Interesting times, partly growing up and considering this woman and her family extended family. Anyway… my grandmother still hangs her unmentionables out on the clothes line today. As you pointed out, it saves those quarters and, in a way, brings the great outdoors, in.

  • Rue (author) said: Barbara — your last statement was right on point — thanks!

  • DNLee said: Interesting. When I was in Guyana for a field course in tropical biology, there was only one way to do laundry – the old-fashioned way. I got a very quite tutorial from Aunt Gloria – the caretaker of the field station – a little ration of soap and whitening square. The tub, washboard, stiff brush, and tank of water were there for my use – or I could walk down to the creek. After numerous rinsings and endless ringing, close werehund out to dry – if they ever became dry (it was the tropics and it was humid and rained several times a day). Laundry was a day long task and I certainly thought of my grandmothers as I whiled away the day. But I loved it. I actually found it to be soothing and relaxing. I also learned some important facts about fabric, textiles, and what makes a quality garment in a tropical climate. I love cotton, but soon realized knit fabrics are a no-no for keeping shape, and easily become tattered or looking worn with hand washing.
    It was fun. I have some pictures of me – on film – doing the laundry. I’ll have to share some day.

  • Courtney said: I’ve read and heard that the clothes dryer is really VERY inefficient from an energy standpoint. I haven’t been able to take advantage of the sun to dry my clothes yet but I am thinking of how I might be able to do it in the future.

  • Rue (author) said: Yes — imagine laundry as a craft — don’t get me wrong, I love that we have modern conveniences. I have kids, and there is no way I could be scrubbing all day, but I don’t mind the idea of slowing down a bit and letting nature take on part of the process.

  • Rue (author) said: Courtney — let’s make a commitment to hang clothes out to dry before Thanksgiving…wanna swap pictures too?