one house, five families, 200 years of history

Home Workplace

Catherine Lynch worked at home doing other people's laundry. It was hot, heavy labor. When she could, she worked outside-the air was cooler, less acrid and steamy. She hauled pails of water to fill washtubs in the yard. She carried baskets of laundry inside to iron near the stove in her kitchen. Just washing linens and cottons took many steps.

  1. Soak overnight
  2. Scrub in hot lye suds
  3. Boil white linens and cottons
  4. Rinse
  5. Rinse again with bluing powd er
  6. Dip in starch and hang to dry
  7. Next day: iron

Could you keep up with Catherine Lynch?

Catherine Lynch did laundry by hand, doing many loads each week. She wrung out every item of clothing, every sheet and tablecloth countless times. After the last rinse, she twisted each one very dry. She hauled about 25 pails of water for each load of laundry. Each pail weighed about 21 pounds.

Making Ends Meet on Elm Street

As a widow, Catherine Lynch had to care for her home on Elm Street and earn enough money to pay for it. She ran a laundry from her home. Her daughter, Mary, made hosiery in the Ipswich mills. Most of their wages would have gone for rent, food, and living expenses.

Taking in boarders helped pay the rent. Nicholas Donovan, a young millworker from Ireland, boarded here in the 1880s. He probably paid Catherine a few dollars a month for room, meals, and laundry.

Well-to-do and middle-class people of Catherine Lynch's day usually arranged for someone else, such as Catherine, to do their laundry either in their own home or the laundress's. Catherine could only afford the most basic equipment for scrubbing, boiling, agitating, and ironing clothes.

Special tools, like the fluting iron, made ironing fashionable pleats and ruffles easier, but were not always an expense laundresses could afford.