Doing Laundry a Hundred Years Ago

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

Monday, August 10, 1914:   We were busy washing this morning. Two mornings prior to this one I escaped wash days as I found some errand to take me away for the morning.  It was a big one this time. We are getting some of our things ready for the trip. Told Ruth I wished the time would soon pass.


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

Grandma and her sister Ruth were going to visit Niagara Falls later in August. Doing laundry was more work back then than now.

Since it’s relevant to this post, I’m going to repeat part of a post that I originally shared three years ago on August 28, 2011 (1911):


Here are some quotes from a book published in 1911 called Laundry Work for Use in Home and Schools by Juniata Shepperd:

Prepare melted soap for the washing by using bits and pieces and ends of soap which have been left. Cut them fine, and shave up as much more as is necessary, or buy soap chips for the purpose. Place the soap in an earthen jar, just cover with water, and set the jar in the oven or on the stove until the soap is melted or dissolved. Use in the proportion of one gallon of water to one-fourth pound of soap. This should be prepared the day before the family washing is to be done.

Portable tubs are usually made of wood or of galvanized iron. A wooden tub is heavy to handle and requires special care in dry weather to prevent its falling apart but it holds the wringer well and is easily kept clean. A galvanized iron tub is light, and not difficult to clean but does not hold the wringer unless fitted with wooden cleats and clamped to the wash bench.

Washboards are in different patterns and made of different materials. A wooden washboard probably injures the cloths as little as any kind, but is rather unpleasant to use unless one is accustomed to it. In selecting a glass or metal-covered board, choose one that is not too much corrugated, because many angles wear clothes as they glide over them.

When the washing is finished the washboard should be washed, wiped dry, and put away in a clean, dry place.

Each part of the wringer should be perfectly clean. When through using it each time, the rollers should be wiped with a dry cloth, or if much soiled, they should be rubbed with a cloth wet with turpentine or kerosene, washed with soapsuds, rinsed, and wiped dry.

When clothes have been well washed in one suds, they can usually be made clean and white by placing them in tepid suds, bringing to the boiling point, and allowing them to boil for a few minutes.

There are a few points to be remembered in preparing clothes for boiling. They must not stop boiling after they begin, and when taken into tepid water from the boiler each piece, must be punched under the water as soon as put into the tub. Exposure to the air seems to set the dirt, and cold water contracts the fibers, thus holding the dust particles, instead of allowing them to fall out, as they should when the clothes are rinsed or manipulated in this water, preparatory to the rinse water proper.

Obstinate stains on white goods may sometimes be removed by soaking the spot in turpentine, then washing, boiling, and finishing.

Clothes lines are of different kinds, and may be either movable or stationary. There are several patterns of clothes pins, but the plain, simple ones are usually most satisfactory, as they are inexpensive, easily washed when dirty, and do their work very well.

And, then the clean clothes need to be ironed . . .

Remodeling of Church Completed

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

Sunday, August 9, 1914:  Went to Sunday school this afternoon. Our church is fixed up at last. It’s quite a satisfaction now to look around and admire the pretty walls and ceiling. It was pretty warm today. The seats had been varnished. Was afraid I might stick fast, but I didn’t. Came home and found Ruthie a lazying around in her room. Her excuse was, ‘twas too hot to go to church.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I bet the pews in Grandma’s church were shinier than these . . . Hmm, now that I’m thinking about it, Grandma said “seat”, not “pews”. Did she mean pews, and was just using imprecise language?

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

The remodeling of the McEwensville Baptist Church took a month and a half. At the beginning of the process, on June 22, 1914, Grandma wrote:

Had quite a time at rubbing and washing today, and it wasn’t here at home either. We are going to have the church fixed over, and it was necessary to wash off the walls. One girl upset her bucket of water off a step ladder. Had to laugh. I was up near the ceiling, and my laughing made me dizzy. Came down off that ladder and staid down. Didn’t want a fate like the bucket.

The remodeled church sounds lovely with pretty walls and ceiling—and shiny varnished seats. Yet, I feel a twinge of sadness, because I know that the church will soon begin its final decline since, in 1939, in her History of McEwensville, Agnes Beard wrote:

 The Baptist Church, a brick edifice, has fallen into ruins, there being no members in or near the place to keep it in repair.

An Upcoming Trip

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

Friday, August 7, 1914:  Florence and I walked to Watsontown this afternoon. She couldn’t stay till train time. Ma wanted me to go to Milton to get her teeth. It was nice and breezy riding down on the car.

Hope Mother dear doesn’t see this. Something would happen if she did. I bought a brownie. It is a little over a week e’er we go to Niagara Falls, and well the temptation was too great. I didn’t want Ruthie to lay her eyes on that package. She has such a way of divining things. I left Mr. Package under a cherry tree, where I felt sure it would not been seen. After dark I smuggled it into the house and up to my room.

1909 Kodak Brownie Camera*

1909 Kodak Brownie Camera (Manufactured: 1909-1915)

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

Wow, Grandma, there’s a lot in this diary entry. You’re getting downright wordy.

Niagara Falls! You’re going to Niagara Falls! Last spring you wrote that you went to Williamsport—which is only 20 miles away—for the first time in your life. And, now you’re going all the way to Niagara Falls! Awesome!. . . Tell us more.

Is the “brownie” a camera? Why would your mother have been angry if she’d known you’d purchased it? You have so much fun taking, and developing, photos. In my humble opinion, you definitely need to new camera to record the trip.

See any cherry trees?DSC04327


Ruth (or Ruthie in this diary entry) was Grandma’s sister. I have no idea who Florence was. This is a new name in the diary.

There’s a Guy!

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

Thursday, August 6, 1914:  Ruth and I went to a party up at Seibert’s this evening. A girl friend of Ruth’s came to take in the affair, so we all went together. Had a rather nice time. They played kissing games (have reasons of my own for not saying we), even if I did get some kisses. Arrived home at about half past 1 a.m.

A side street in McEwensville

A side street in McEwensville

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


WHO is it? . . .Is he cute? . . . I’m not sure whether to be happy for you or alarmed.

I’m trying to be ecstatic , but sometimes I just can’t forget that in reality I’m a middle-aged mother who worries about my kids. . . and that you are my grandmother.

Hundred-year-old Pictures of Painted and Stenciled Furniture

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

Tuesday, August 4, 1914:  Forgot what I did today.1914-06-35 e

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

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’ll share some ideas for stenciling and painting furniture that were in the June, 1914 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

Did Grandma ever paint or stencil a dresser or chair to beautify her bedroom? When I was young I used to enjoy “antiguing” furniture with paint to give it a new look. Maybe Grandma also enjoyed giving old furniture a new look.

1914-06-35 cThe simple pattern on the slats is stenciled in white.

1914-06-35 GWhen painted  yellow and stenciled with a leaf motif in green, a chiffonier makes an attractive piece of furniture.

1914-06-35 dThe washstand can be treated in a like manner.


Made Ice Cream

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

Sunday, August 2, 1914:  Went to Sunday school this morning.Besse and Curt came out towards evening. They brought ice and we made ice cream.

I couldn't find an old photo of chocolate ice cream, but here's a picture of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce that was in Lowney's Cookbook (1912).

I couldn’t find an old photo of chocolate ice cream, but here’s a picture of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce that was in Lowney’s Cookbook (1912). See this recipe in a previous post: Hundred-year-old Recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce.

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

mmm. . . Ice cream and cake sound good.

It’s weird, but I have a vague sense of changing technology and transportation across the 3 1/2 years that I’ve been posting the diary entries.

Grandma’s family often made ice cream on Sundays when her married sister Besse and her husband Curt came to visit. However, I think this is the first time they had ice cream during the summer.

In the past they always made it during the winter when ice was readily available. I think that they got the ice out of animal watering troughs or from the creek. For example, on January 22, 1911 Grandma wrote:

Went to Sunday school and church this morning. Made ice cream. That is my sister made it and I assisted. I got the ice. Besse and Curt came out this evening. Just when Ruth and I were having a little spat all to ourselves.

(Grandma sometimes had ice cream during the summer at a festival—and once at a friend’s home— but never at home.)

Besse and Curt lived in nearby Watsontown. My take is that technology and transportation were changing—and that it was easier (or at least less expensive) to get ice during the summer months in 1914 than had been back in 1911.

Life is an Ever-changing Scene

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

Saturday, August 1, 1914:

The summertime is passing on,

To summers that have gone before.

Life is an ever-changing scene,

Which we would fair explore.

Am beginning to count the days until the 17th beams upon my horizon. Ruth and I went to a festival up in town given for the benefit of the church.


Site of the McEwensville Baptist Church years ago. Was the festival held at the church? It’s difficult to picture a church and a festival on this lot.

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


There are hints about so many things in this diary entry—but so little substance. What is going to happen on the 17th? What did you and your sister Ruth do at the festival? Did you see the person mentioned in yesterday’s diary entry?

. . . Went to a surprise party this evening. It was over at Carrie’s. Enjoyed myself as much as I usually do. I think no doubt remains as to the state of my feelings concerning somebody.

July 31, 1914

I assume you wrote the poem, but you’re only 19—and in some ways the monthly poem sounds like it was written by someone much older.

For more information about the monthly poems see this previous post:

Monthly Poem in Diary


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