Saturday, January 28, 2012


Wash Day

Bettye H. Galloway

Wash day was always Monday. At least it was always Monday in our little community in North Mississippi in the early forties. These were the days before REA found us and provided electricity, which meant no electricity and no running water.

Dale, with her two smallest girls, would come up our hill at daylight on wash day, and by the time we got up and ate breakfast, she had already started the fire under the black wash pot. By the time we were allowed to go outside, Dale was busy carrying water from the pump to fill the three tubs lined up on the sawhorses behind the house, one for scrubbing, one for rinsing, and one with bluing water for the white clothes. Dale had mastered the art of washday. She sorted the items from our hampers into three piles—whites, coloreds, and work clothes. The whites went into the first tub where they were soaked for a while, gently scrubbed on a rub board, and then carried to the wash pot and boiled while she worked on the colored clothes. The whites were removed very carefully from the boiling water with a broom handle and carried to the second tub on the sawhorses where they were rinsed and transferred to the third tub of bluing water. My sister and I were too busy playing with Dale’s girls to pay much attention to what she was doing, but we were allowed to keep the fire stoked under the wash pot and to hand her the clothes from the piles as she needed them. When the whites had soaked for a while in the bluing water to whiten them, we were allowed to help hang them on the clothesline holding them in place with wooden clothespins and being careful to space them so that there would be room left for the colored clothes.

The colored clothes, meanwhile, had been soaking in the first tub. They were scrubbed on the rub board, boiled in the wash pot, and transferred to the rinse water. We then were allowed to hang them on the clotheslines with the white clothes. The work clothes followed the same pattern with the exception of the trip to the clothesline. Usually the white and coloreds had filled the clothesline, and the work clothes (usually denim and khaki) were hung on the fence surrounding the yard.

After the wash was completed, Dale stripped us all and gave us a good bath in the wash water—her girls in the rinse water and my sister and me in the bluing tub. We were filthy from playing around the ashes at the wash pot and around the tubs all morning. She then carried all the water, bucketful by bucketful, to the garden for irrigation. Water was scarce and nothing was wasted.

Toward noon, we watched Dale and her girls walk down the hill toward their house, and we waited with bated breath for the next washday—a whole week away!


Born, reared, and educated in Oxford, Lafayette County, Mississippi, Bettye Hudson Galloway is retired from Mississippi state service (primarily from the University of Mississippi) and as the executive vice president of a drug testing laboratory.