Washing the Kitchen Ceiling

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, May 13, 1913:  Started to earn my dollar washing off the kitchen ceiling. Want to get it finished by tomorrow. The Bryson girls were down.  

DSC03888.Blanche.BrysonBlanche Bryson (Source: “Cut” from picture in History of the McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm. Used with permission.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Really??  Washing the kitchen ceiling?? Why?? I’ve knocked a few spider webs down from ceilings, but I’ve never washed a ceiling in my life.

Whew, it must have been a lot of work, if it was going to take two days.  At least Grandma got paid for doing it.  $1 back then would be worth about $24 today.

The Bryson Girls

One of the Bryson girls would have been Blanche. She was a friend and Grandma’s and her sister Ruth, and is mentioned several places in the diary.  Blanche was a teacher at the Keefertown School, a one-room school house, near McEwensville. Both Blanche and Ruth went to the Sunbury teachers’ meeting that I showed a picture of a few days ago. I’m not sure what the other Bryson girl’s name was.

38 Responses

  1. Kitchen ceilings, (and I have washed some) would become dirty I think with smoke or grease from cooking fires and fly dirt.

  2. It would be a little harder to wash our textured ceilings of today :-).

  3. I’ve heard that years ago, they washed down the walls, etc. With the houses being much more open, it probably required more cleaning than we think of today. I remember my aunt saying that she woke up one morning as a child, and there was snow on her bed. We just can’t imagine…

  4. I have washed walls and even a ceiling. A paddle fan that is constantly in motion with open windows does a great job of distributing dust and dirt on the ceiling. :-( She earned her $1/$24!!

  5. I’ve washed ceilings!

  6. If the heated with coal or wood the ceilings get dark and stained… we washed ceilings at our cabin and even in our home since it was heated with a wood furnace. It is hard work! We didn’t get paid.. lol

  7. I’ve washed a ceiling, but only once (thankfully!). It’s amazing to think that only 100 years ago $1 was worth so much.

  8. We have to wash our bathroom ceiling on a regular basis (just not enough ventilation even with a fan). But I would imagine back then with wood or coal stoves they would need to wash walls and ceilings.

    • My ceilings probably need to be washed– but they are textured “popcorn” ceilings, so I try not to look too carefully. :)

  9. Yes, the ceiling was probably dirty from the cooking and they may have burned wood or coal for fuel. I am glad I have never washed a ceiling.

    • It makes sense that they got dirty from the cooking and the method of heating. I’m also glad that I’ve never washed a ceiling.

  10. Nope, have never ever washed a ceiling, either. I think many people were better housekeepers back then.

    • Or at least more thorough when they did major cleaning. Sometimes I think that I’m better at picking up on a day-to-day basis–but less good at dusting, cleaning all the corners, etc.

  11. My mom used to do ceilings and walls every spring.

  12. Blanche’s sister was Magaret Bryson Wolfe Snyder, called Sis. She was a nurse.

    • Thanks for the information. There are several places in the diary where someone named Margaret is mentioned. Until now, I had never been able to figure out the last name.

  13. Now your grandma has me looking at my kitchen ceiling! Should I wash it? I think not! There is much to learn from the past. :)

  14. Ugh…sounds like way too much neck breaking work! I would have a serious neck ache if I had to wash the ceilings! I’ll be interested to see if your next post mentions Grandma’s sore neck. :)

  15. Hi. I rarely wash a floor, let alone a ceiling. Perhaps it was spring-cleaning time. I wonder, does Helena ever say that she wants to go to work after school? Did she ever consider going to college? I know we are now in different times, with different goals for women. Jane

  16. Some of the old instructions and ads you’ve posted make me think this wasn’t such an odd thing to do back then, whether it was necessary or not. Maybe they were messy cooks? :-P

    Imma catchin’ up to yoooouuu!!!

  17. I wonder if the ceiling needed cleaning because they used a wood stove? Or even had Kerosene lamps for light? Tough way to earn $1 though.

    • They would have had either a wood or coal stove.Coal was mined about 20 miles from where Grandma lived–and was often used in Pennsylvania instead of wood. And they would have used keresene lamps for light.

  18. […] is the Margaret most recently mentioned in the diary. She was the sister of Blanche Bryson and on May 13, 1913, Grandma […]

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