Some Dry Thoughts

September 2, 2013 § 4 Comments

One of the unexpected bonuses of leading “Living the Wright Way” (in-depth tours of the Dana-Thomas House) is the discussions that the guests generate as we tour the house.  The group this week started imagining how clothes must have been dried when Susan lived at the Lawrence House.  This was of particular interest to me because I went home after the tour to meet a delivery man who brought us a brand new dryer to replace the energy consuming monster we have been tolerating the past year. The coincidence inspired me to do some research on early 20th century laundry drying techniques, and I found that there is plenty of information on the internet.

Susan's Dryer  (Clothes Horse)

Susan’s Dryer
(Clothes Horse)

As a result, my imagination has created a new image of the beautiful courtyard surrounding the house.  Somehow clothes lines are extended throughout the yard, and laundry attached with spring-hinged clothespins is waving in the summer breeze. Linens are spread on the grass and across the bushes where they can dry in the fresh air and be bleached by the sun. In inclement weather, laundry was hung on wooden racks called clothes horses.  I am imagining that when necessary, Susan’s staff set up dozens of clothes horses in the cloak room which adjoined the laundry room.

My Dryer

My Dryer

Although I know that the 1900 techniques for drying clothes are much better for our environment than my method, I suspect that the folks who did the laundry at the Lawrence House would prefer the time and space saving technology that I enjoy. I’ll try to save the planet in other ways!

There are two more opportunities to join the “Living the Wright Way” tour—September 14 and 28.  Both two hour tours begin at 10:15.  A donation of $20 is suggested, and reservations may be made at 217-782-6776. Who knows what interesting discussions will evolve on those tours? 

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§ 4 Responses to Some Dry Thoughts

  • Richard Herndon says:

    I’ve often wondered how people who lived in Susan’s time (or before) endured the summer heat and humidity, especially given their heavy, full coverage style of dress. Did they shed layers of clothing in the privacy of their homes?

    • susanandme says:

      I don’t know about the shedding, but I did find this interesting quote in my research: “Interestingly, the bulk of the laundry consisted of “body linen.” Worn next to the skin, undershirts, shifts, chemises, and the like protected finer garments from skin oils and sweat that soiled clothing more than dirt from the outside. Consequently these fine garments were rarely laundered. These two facts explain why so much silk and wool clothing of the period survives for us to see now.” This came from a post entitled “This is the Way We Wash Our Clothes in the 18th and early 19th Centuries” found at

  • Mike Kienzler says:

    Wouldn’t Susan have been more likely to have had her linens sent out, to a washerwoman or even a commercial laundry? Somehow I don’t see sheets and unmentionables hanging on clotheslines at 4th and lawrence.

    • susanandme says:

      I find it hard to imagine too, but I read an interview of one of the maids in which she listed the names of people who were employed by Susan along with their duties, and one person’s job was laundress. Maybe that’s why Susan had FLW build that wall all around the property!

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