Whitesburg KY
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The Way We Were

Washday in the 1940s


WASHING WITHOUT MACHINES — This photo taken on a washday in the early 1940s shows Louemma Dyer, center, and one of her daughters carrying out the task of cleaning clothes without the modern appliances we all know today. Mrs. Dyer was the grandmother of Bill Marshall, husband of Elva Pridemore Marshall, who writes about helping on washday in Letcher County.

WASHING WITHOUT MACHINES — This photo taken on a washday in the early 1940s shows Louemma Dyer, center, and one of her daughters carrying out the task of cleaning clothes without the modern appliances we all know today. Mrs. Dyer was the grandmother of Bill Marshall, husband of Elva Pridemore Marshall, who writes about helping on washday in Letcher County.

Several months ago I read an article that was republished from a 1920’s women’s magazine. It was titled “The Proper Way to Wash Your Clothes” and went into great detail listing the steps you must take to wash clothes properly.

As I read the article my thoughts were that to do all they were requiring you would have needed several servants. There was no way the families I knew could ever accomplish this “proper wash.” I would now like to tell about “washday” in our household in the 1940’s.

Our washday would begin with my brothers carrying water from a stream that flowed in front of our house. The stream ran over heavy slate. Dad had taken a stick of dynamite and blasted out a hole that we called a sink. This was where we got our wash water. My brothers would fill a cast iron kettle that hung over an open fire and two washtubs that sat on a bench. These were filled half-full leaving room to add the hot water.

I began helping my sister Billie and our mother wash as soon as I was tall enough to reach the tubs. First, the clothes were separated into whites and colors. The white clothes were placed in the big iron kettle to boil with homemade lye soap added. If they were the least bit yellowed a little lye itself was added. After the clothes boiled, a long paddle was used to lift the clothes from the kettle to the first tub, where was where the washboard was placed. We rubbed the lye soap on each piece of clothing, scrubbed it on the washboard, then dunked it in the wash water several times to get most of the soap out. After that, we would wring out each piece of clothing by hand and put it in the rinse water, where we would then try to rinse the rest of the soap and as much of the water out as possible before placing it in a container to be taken to hang to dry on the clothesline.

The clothesline was made from heavy wire stretched between two posts. The line needed to be high enough to keeps sheets from dragging the ground. When hanging the clothes to dry we had to remember that “like clothes” had to be hanged together, such as towels, washcloths, underclothes and bedclothes. We were not allowed to mix items because my mother insisted that everything on the line needed to look orderly!

After the whites were finished the colors were washed, first the shirts, dresses and aprons, then pants and anything else heavy. Some clothes had to be starched. We made the starch we used by boiling water and adding flour to obtain the desired texture. The starch was then added to a tub of water and the clothes were dipped into the mixture before they were hanged to dry. We starched pillowcases, shirts, dresses and aprons. By the time all this was accomplished the day was about over and we all three were worn out. It was then time to make supper.

Every spring we would wash our quilts. I enjoyed quilt-washing day. A tub of water would be made ready with soap added before a quilt would be put in to soak. After it had soaked a while, I would get to clean my feet by stepping in the tub and stomping on the quilt for about five or 10 minutes. The quilt would then be rinsed through two or three rinse waters, after which two people would wring it out as well as we could. I never did get the hang of wringing water out of clothes; therefore I was not allowed to do this chore.

One day I was outside by the dirt road that ran by our house stomping in a tub of quilts when two men and a lady on horseback came up the road. The lady was riding sidesaddle and her horse spooked when it passed me and almost dragged her off against the fence. This really got me excited, as I had never seen a lady riding sidesaddle. I ran into the house and told my parents what happened. I said it was no wonder she almost fell off since she was riding with both legs on the same side. Of course my parents thought that was funny and laughed at me.

I didn’t mind washday too much, but I sure dreaded ironing day. After the clothes were washed and dried they had to be taken off the clotheslines and folded. The items that did not have to be ironed were taken inside and put away. Items that had to be ironed were separated into two stacks. The ones that had been starched had to be sprinkled with water, rolled up and covered up with a towel to keep them from drying out until we got them ironed. A Coke bottle with a sprinkle top fitted was used to sprinkle the clothes with water. Ironing was a job I hated, and even to this day it is a chore that I put off as long as I can.

Many days I have stood over an ironing board all day long ironing our family’s clothes. The jeans were the hardest things to iron, but finally help came from a company that came out with a metal pant frame to fit inside the legs of the jeans to stretch them as they dried and we didn’t need to iron them anymore. That was something to celebrate!

When I first got old enough to iron we didn’t have electricity. We used an iron made of cast iron that we placed on the old wood and coal kitchen cook stove until it got hot enough to iron with. It was an exciting day when we got electricity and bought our first electric iron. That was around 1944, and Dad went to a hardware store in Hazard and ordered an electric refrigerator and Maytag washing machine. Because World War II was still going on he was put on a waiting list until after the war ended.

When the refrigerator and washing machine were finally delivered late one afternoon I was washing my baby brother’s clothes on the washboard. It was sweet words to my ears to hear Mother say, “Just leave them in the tub to soak and we will wash them in the washing machine in the morning.” I washed many clothes on that Maytag wringer washer from that day until the day I got married. Mother continued using that same machine until the 1970’s when she got an automatic washer. She also used the refrigerator until about the same time. If only we could get appliances today that would last that long.

Writing this article brought back a lot of memories of washday at the Pridemore home on Walter’s Branch at Isom where I was raised. I can still remember how hard we had to work back then. I look back now and I appreciate that our parents taught us children that hard work is you want to succeed. Dad used to tell us that his job as a parent was to teach his children to work and grow up to be adults that were able to take care of themselves. I’m glad to have been taught that lesson. I am thankful for the time in which I was raised and the parents that raised me.

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1908

March 18, 1943

Letcher County farmers have been asked to grow 200 acres of “seed hemp” in the crop year of 1943. Hemp is a wartime crop being grown in the mountains for its seed. This seed is then planted in more level areas of the country, where it is later turned into fiber used to make rope.

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News has reached Letcher County that Blackburn Hogg, a native of Letcher County who has lived most of his life in the Kingdom Come area, has died in a shipyard accident in Baltimore, Maryland. According to reports, Hogg was reaming holes in the hull of a ship in the dark and accidentally fell from a 30-foot scaffold, striking his head. His eldest son was working on the same boat at the time of the accident. The elder Hogg was the father of six sons and a veteran of World War I. Burial was in the family cemetery at Kingscreek.

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Pvt. Ellis Hampton, 22, is missing in action in Africa. Pvt. Hampton, of Jeremiah, volunteered for service in World War II in July 1942 and has been overseas since October. He was a star basketball player at the Stuart Robinson School in Blackey. His mother, Mrs. Armelda Hampton of Jeremiah, received word that her son was missing from the War Department.

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Ira Collins, 48, was killed instantly Monday when he was crushed in a slate fall at Consolidation Coal Company’s Mine No. 204 in Jenkins. Collins was employed by Consol for a number of years and left behind a large family in Wise County, Va.

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At least 21 passengers were injured, one of them seriously, when the truck in which they were riding overturned on Kingscreek.

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A mother and daughter have died less than a week apart on Rockhouse. On March 9, Martha Meade, near 50, died in her home on Mill Creek of Rockhouse. Six days later, her mother, Mary Collier, died at age 70 in the same home.

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Four Letcher County women are in training after joining the armed services. Kathleen Cornett and Mary Combs were called to report to Hunter College in New York City for training with the Women of America Volunteering for Emergency (WAVE). Ruby Simmons of Seco has been called to Hunter College for training with the Women Marines. Ora Banks of Hotspot is training in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

March 19, 1953

The Eastern Kentucky Industrial Foundation held a “town hall meeting” Tuesday evening in the Jenkins High School auditorium. Discussions included ways and means of bringing industry into Letcher County, and the county’s potential of labor and natural resources. An estimated 100 of Letcher County’s leading business and professional attended.

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The Whitesburg football field is beginning to take shape as the foundation as been poured and the sides are going up. The stadium will be made of cement blocks and will seat 1,400 people, with dressing rooms in the lower section.

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Twenty members of the Whitesburg Ballet Class, under the direction of Susanne and Hugh Adams, performed Tuesday at the Lynch High School auditorium. The Lynch school paid the ballet class $100 to perform. The money will go to the Whitesburg Band Fund.

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“Each year in Letcher County we buy hundreds of bushels of peaches brought in from North Carolina and South Carolina; also hundreds of bushels of apples from Virginia,” writes Mayking resident Willard Gilliam in his series of columns The Future Is In Your Hands. “We buy Irish potatoes, (and) every quart of milk we use is produced elsewhere. Not a cake or loaf of bread is produced for sale in Letcher County. We buy thousands of dozens of eggs and hundreds of frozen chickens, annually, none of which are raised in our county. Not one axe handle, pick handle, broom, handkerchief, dress, or pair of overalls is produced in Letcher County commercially. Is it any wonder then that things are not going so well with us?”

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Clarence Harlow, of Harlow Motor Company in Neon, was presented with Ford Motor Company’s “Four Letter Award” plaque for outstanding performance as a Ford dealer for the year 1952.

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“Sheriff Hassel Stamper, attorney J.L. Hayes, Kelly Stamper, David Fields and James Breeding were fishing at Lake Cumberland the first of the week,” writes Mrs. Cecil Webb in her “Society” column.

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Coach Goebel Ritter’s Hazard Bulldogs upset the Hindman Yellowjackets, 67-65, to take the championship of the 14th Regional Tournament at Hazard on Saturday night. The Bulldogs trailed 14 points at half-time. Whitesburg High School star Buddy Fields was named to the all-tournament team.

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On Wednesday night, 14th Region champion Hazard defeated Breckinridge County, 55-49, in the opening round of the boys’ State Tournament in Louisville. The people of Whitesburg and Letcher County are backing Hazard all the way in hopes of bringing the trophy back to Letcher County. This is Hazard’s 15th trip to the tourney.

March 21, 1963

Bulldozers and endloaders have begun the long task of rebuilding roads and bridges damaged by floods last week. Letcher County Judge James Caudill said about 500 miles of road on 200 county roads were washed out by the March 11 and 12 floods. Work had been begun to repair some of the roads when the water rose again last weekend and washed out what repairs had been made. The flood took most of the culverts and bridges on side roads in the county, and didn’t leave a single culvert on Thornton Creek. Judge Caudill said the damage was greater than that of the 1957 flood. More than 200 families have registered with the American Red Cross for assistance. Caudill attributed the flooding of downtown Neon to the failure of the L&N Railroad to raise its bridges last summer after the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river there.

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The Letcher County Medical Society and the Letcher County Health Department are sponsoring a series of three clinics in an effort to rid the county of polio. Sabinoral vaccine will be given in a series of three doses. The first clinic will be at 1 p.m., Sunday, March 31 at the Blackey, Colson, Eolia, Whitesburg and Fleming-Neon grade schools and the Jenkins and Kingdom Come high schools.

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A team from the University of Kentucky visited Whitesburg and selected several possible sites for a proposed community college here. Possible sites included the grounds for Whitesburg Memorial Hospital or Willie Lucas’s farm near Whitco.

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Emmett G. Fields announces he will be a candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney in the 1963 election.

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W.L. Stallard Jr. announces he will be a candidate for re-election to the office of Letcher Circuit Court Clerk on the Republican Party ticket. “I do not claim to be a war hero,” Stallard writes in an advertisement. “I simply state that during battle in World War II I lost my right foot and part of my right leg. … As a result I am not physically able to do hard manual labor, but I am fully qualified to serve as your circuit clerk.”

March 22, 1973

The Kentucky Department of Highways says it is going ahead with construction of the Whitesburg bypass without additional public hearings. Department officials said every effort will be made to acquire the necessary rights-of-way for the road.

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Resignations of most of the staff members of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation were accepted this week by the corporation’s board. The agency, financed by federal anti-poverty funds, is left with only two staff members — Lois A. Baker, director of procurement and transportation, and Stella Elam, director of finance.

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Eliza Jane Hall, 95, of Sandlick, was carried from her home to safety by neighbors who feared her home would be crushed at any moment by rocks and mud washing down from a strip-mine road.

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Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held at Isom for the new Pic-Pac Food Store, owned by Mike and Sheila Sloane of Knott County.

March 24, 1983

The Reagan administration proposes selling 35,354 acres of national forest lands in Kentucky, including about 961 acres in Letcher and Perry counties, which are included in the Jefferson National Forest. The sell presumably is intended to humor President Ronald Reagan, who made presidential and environmental history in a recent speech in which he charged that trees pollute the environment.

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More than 1,000 persons attended a special Jenkins City Council meeting to protest a decision by state officials which may cancel the sale of Jenkins Clinic Hospital to U.S. Health Corporation of Clearwater, Fla. Kentucky Human Resources Secretary Buddy Adams denied U.S. Health’s application for a state license to receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. A 14-member delegation from Letcher County went to Frankfort in support of U.S. Health. Information shows that the hospital had a 26 percent occupancy rate for the past five years Letcher County has the state’s fifth highest hospital occupancy rate, 258 patients per 1,000 population compared to the state average of only 178 per 1,000.

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The trial of eight persons charged with the January kidnapping of Kathy Osborne Niece has been postponed until May. The alleged kidnappers released Mrs. Niece on Pound- Jenkins Mountain after she promised to pay them $50,000.

March 24, 1993

The Kentucky Department of Highways is purchasing rights-of-way for the reconstruction of U.S. 23 from the Virginia state line to Jenkins. Engineers say the 2.8-mile section of road will be a major undertaking and probably will take two years to build. The cost is expected to average $15.5 million a mile.

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Snow removal from last week’s record storm may have cost Letcher County as much as $100,000, Judge/Executive Ruben Watts said.

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Biologists confirm that a large animal spotted near a soil conservation project in Letcher County is a cougar.

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Farm production continued to decline in Letcher County over the past decade and the county is now ranked 117th among Kentucky counties in total income from agriculture.

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Anthony Smith, 27, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and his wife, Carolyn, 26, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the deaths of Mrs. Smith’s parents and their 38-year-old son, who were locked in their mobile home at Isom and burned alive on August 1, 1987.

March 26, 2003

Residents of communities that the City of Fleming-Neon is trying to annex are fighting back with petitions. Residents of McRoberts, Hemphill, Kona, Seco, Whitaker, Neon Junction and Haymond say Fleming-Neon has nothing to offer them and they’re taking steps to stop the annexation.

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A lawsuit charges that subsidence brought on by poor deep mining practices by Consol of Kentucky has caused so much damage to land owned by a Jackhorn family that it will be “physically impossible” to repair the property.

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Letcher County formally kicked off door-to-door recycling this week, putting a nine-year effort into effect. Residents who want to recycle are asked to separate recyclable materials from garbage, and put the recyclables into clear, blue recycling bags. Both the garbage and recyclables will be picked on regular garbage collection days.

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Letcher County is among 15 Kentucky counties declared a disaster area as a result of ice storms, flooding, and landslides that occurred between Feb. 15 and Feb. 26.


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