Laundry was done by hand from the dawn of civilization. In ancient times it was done by a river and the clothes were beaten on rocks to get the dirt out. As we progressed our ways of washing clothes improved.
In the 18th and 19th centuries laundry was done by hand but not along riverside. A small wooden laundry tub with a wash board was used to soak clothes in hot water with lye or soap.
A washboard, which was a piece of wood with ribbed surface, was used to scrub the clothes and loosen the dirt. Today's washing machines do this job with an agitator that moves and rotates the clothes to loosen up the dirt.
The wooden ribbed surface of the washboard was later replaced with galvanized steel, which was easier to make and lasted longer. During the second World War metal was scarce. Hence, wash boards were made of glass.
The wash tub would be filled with clean water and the built in ringer with a handle would help squeeze the water out. Thus, the clothes were rinsed in clean water.
The task of doing laundry fell upon the shoulders of women. They washed, and ironed the clothes for the family.
Image Source: Indu Varma
This antique wash tub is on display in the St. James Textile Museum in Dorchester.