See how happy this woman looks while washing clothes. She is obviously demented. If memory serves, when Mother ironed, stringy hair dangled in her scowling face, her dress front was wet. Most often, she was barefoot, since since it was common for the drain hose to slip out, drenching her. Image from Smithsonian Files
Above you can see my proudest possession, my 1940s model America Beauty iron. I’d looked in resale shops all over till I found this one. I like an iron that gets super hot to iron jeans. This one has to move constant to avoid scorching. It does a great job. I need to be on the lookout for another, since it’s a possibility this one won’t last forever.
Ironing in the 1950s was a huge chore. As soon as breakfast was over, and the kitchen tidied, out came the ironing board. A stack of wire hangers hung on the doorframe, waiting to be pressed into service. Mother pulled a few pieces of balled up clothing from the pillowcase in the freezer. Her coke bottle sprinkler was at hand just in case a piece had dried out too much. It could be re sprinkled and balled up to go back in the freezer till it was just
Mother always attacked Daddy’s clothes first since that was the biggest and most demanding job. With a freshly cleaned iron, she went for the white shirts Daddy wore for casual and dress. They had to be spotless, crisp, and perfect. The iron temperature had to be high to do the job, but a bit of hesitation left a dreaded scorch mark. A time or two, Mother hung a shirt in his closet with a little scorch she hoped he wouldn’t notice, and he’d throw a fit, wad it up, and throw it down. “I can’t wear a mess like this!” I don’t know why she never killed him. His khaki pants had to have perfect creases. She starched them and put them on pants stretchers to ensure proper creases They dried hard and could stand alone when she took them off the line. His blue work shirts were hard work, but not so challenging as the pants and white shirts. His five pair of pants and five to seven shirts must be been an exhausting challenge. He would sometimes wear his pants twice without laundering, so he did help a little with the laundry. His handkerchiefs made quick work.
The dresses and school clothes came next. I can assure you, after Mother took the time to iron all those frilly little home-made dresses, we changed as soon as we came in from school, so we could wear them at least twice. When we put them on, she had to rough up the underarm seams to soften them. Otherwise, they’d scratch at our tender flesh. The skirts were so stiff, they belled out even without a petticoat. My brother’s pants and shirts were less challenging, which was fortunate, since he normally got the knees of his pants so dirty, he could only wear them one day. Naturally, last of all, she ironed her cotton housedresses, since she was a lady of leisure and didn’t have to “work.”
Before she had five children, I remember sheets and pillow cases coming at the end of the ironing list. Over the years, she got lazy and those fell by the wayside. Little girls were taught to iron hankies and pillowcases first. Ironing was “women’s work” not just something a boy needed to know. How fortunate for them!
Usually by the end of ironing day. Mother had thirty-five to forty crisp pieces hanging on the threshold of the doorway, seasoning and waiting for the closet. Every week, she counted those pieces without fail, proudly cataloging her work. I thank God, we don’t have to do that now!