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Showing posts from August 16, 2009

the of course

We are not utterly cut off. There was, for instance, Mary Collier. An agricultural laborer, a washerwoman, and a poet. She was taught the crude elements of reading and writing and, in the midst of her toils, took some precious time out of the day to read. She read, for instance, Stephan Duck, another peasant poet, and noted his disparaging words about women “sitting in the fields” rather than swinging their scythes. She cried out against the lie here in her own poem, The Woman’s Labour an epistle to Stephan Duck, which was published in 1739. Collier gives us first hand an account of standing outside in the cold winter dark of early mourning, waiting for the maid to get up and let her and other washerwomen into the house, so they could begin the laundry. But when from Wind and Weather we get in, Briskly with Courage we our Work begin ; Heaps of fine Linen we before us view, Whereon to lay our Strength and Patience too ; Cambricks and Muſlins, which our Ladies wear, Laces and Edgings, co

at the portals of the modern with a basket in my arms

So my faithful gadfly North wants to know, why washerwomen? Wash women. Laudresses. Why not seamstresses? Why not the workers in pin factories? Why not paysannes or prostitutes? Well, partly it is for that most male of reasons: la donna è mobile. Blanchisseuses in 18th century Paris were not only numerous, but also moved in a number of social spaces. The obscure washed their own clothes, often jostling professional wash women on the banks of the Seine. As one climbs the ladder of notability, however, self-presentation, and thus clean linen, becomes ever more important. And then, too, what would our artificial paradise be without chemicals? In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, while some remnant alchemists looked for universal solvents or the philosopher’s stone, others – whose very spirit is breathed out by the wonderful planches in the encyclopedia, those busy, small worlds – turned to more practical questions. And what was more practical than a better soap. Various substances –

solitude and the washerwoman

=Marie Petiet It is said that St. Petersburg was built on the bones of the builders, the army of serfs that drained the swamps and laid the foundations. And then, too, as Emerson once said, there was a deal of guano in every immigrant ship that came to America. Buffalo skinners and railroad track men, how many laid down their only homestead and died. So while we are on the subject, give a thought to the hundreds of thousands of permanently bent spines, the hernias, the paralyzing shoots of rheumatism that rattle around in your clean clothes. Blanchisseuses, Wascherfrau, laundresses, washing woman – from the early modern period to the washing machine of the 50s, this overwhelmingly female job was ill paid, unhealthy, and exhausting. It is, of course, far from over yet. In Mexico City, with its terrible water system, you will not find the American style washer/drier set up as the convenience we all have, and on the rooftops of even rich mansions you might well find the maid soaking cloth