Half-way post with Mounties doing laundry, Yukon Territory, 1902-06. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB. Note sign above door of cabin that reads “Woman wanted.”
Call me crazy, but I enjoy doing laundry and maybe especially laundry by hand (handknit sweaters, delicate blouses, knitted socks)! Saturday is typically my laundry day, when I spend the morning washing and hanging and revelling in the freshness of clean sheets that will soon go on the bed. Sundays I iron my shirts, and even that I find meditative…Maybe I’m a little bit strange…The work that these ladies did was undoubtedly more onerous (the latter two, especially).
Marge Allen hanging laundry on the line, Red Deer, AB, 1919. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
Mrs. Laura Gardiner doing family laundry, Porcupine Hills, AB 1896. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
What a hat for doing laundry!
Woman doing laundry, Balzac AB area, 1905-6. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
When I lived in South Korea I was fascinated by the lightweight, highly-portable laundry machines that you could pick up with one hand/arm and that hooked up to the bathroom tap. The one that we had had a separate, narrow centrifugal compartment that practically dried the clothes completely before they were ready to be hung on the balcony. I’ve always remembered that washing machine and wondered why we have such monster machines here (in general).
In Italy, of course, I find myself looking up at small balconies laden with laundry drying and ingenious contraptions folding out from apartment windows. I don’t know why I haven’t taken any particularly nice photos of laundry in Italy. Perhaps it’s because there is something rather intimate about a family’s laundry hanging out of a window and the family is still by far the central unit of Italian society. You can read the story of a family through its laundry.
Courtyard. Florence, Italy, 2012.
Alleyway, Italy, 2013.
Yesterday, I took the bus to a fabric store to buy some zippers and do some general exploring. A man got on the bus with a garbage bag full of beer cans and bottles. He was clearly collecting them to earn some extra money, and as the man was relatively young I wondered how he had ended up in those circumstances. When he opened his mouth he was missing more than a few teeth.
An older, neatly-dressed man with a beard moved to the front of the bus to await his stop and the young man spoke up: “Nice to see you again.” The older man didn’t seem to know the younger man, who said, “I remember you from years before, from X shelter downtown.” They proceeded to have a gracious conversation about how each were now living in apartments provided by the city, rent paid, and how they were appreciative and that things were going well. When they parted they shook hands. An older woman sitting nearby grimaced and moved back a few seats. I can only speculate what she was thinking, but not everyone is keen on people who are being supported by the state. I have to admit that I always feel differently when I see people like this, as I feel strongly that as a society we have an obligation to help its weakest members. These men had a dignity about them, imparted at least in part from the pride that they seemed to have in sharing that they each had their own apartments now. It’s difficult to know what happened to these men earlier in their lives that robbed them of a strong enough will to make an independent life for themselves. One can only hope that by offering them some respect and dignity they will eventually be able to do something more.
Yesterday evening I started looking at photos of laundry in the archives. Beyond the expected photos of women, I came across photos of working men doing their laundry in the west, as we as a country were opening it up. Many men went west as bachelors, to make their lives and their fortunes. Others left the east to work in the west and returned to their families only infrequently. They were forced by economic circumstances to be independent. Some may have even been content living such a life. Anyhow, before I continue playing amateur sociologist, I’d like to share some photos.
The Canadian west and north-west, late 18th and early 19th centuries:
Cook doing his laundry on half-day off during round up, Belly River, 1900. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
E.P. Brown, railway surveyor, doing laundry in wheelbarrow, 1905-1907. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB.
Canadian Pacific Railway conductors relaxing (!) and doing laundry, 1910s. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
Bachelor cabin: Bill Herzog doing laundry, Roy Erbe churning and making bread, pigs running around, Delia area, AB, 1910-13, Glenbow Archives, Calgary AB
(I especially like that Roy is making butter!)
And he looks happy:
Man doing laundry outside cabin in NWT, 1933. Member of Royal Canadian Signals. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB.
Bachelor washing clothes outside cabin, Beynon, AB, 1893. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB, 1903.
Man doing laundry on ranch in southern Alberta, n.d. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
Of course, Chinese laundries began to crop up in the west, and women soon arrived to do the work.
Wong Yet Star Laundry, Olds, Alberta, 1904-5. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
Laundry day on Wyman’s farm near Bon Accord, AB, 1916-19. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB
Member of survey crew doing laundry near Blackie, AB, 1909. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB