The Ins and Outs of Spring-Cleaning: 1917

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OUR CLUB DIARY

We Discuss the Ins and Outs of Spring Cleaning
By the Secretary

Do you suppose our men-folks are waking up to the fact that the science of housekeeping has taken a big new stride and that the long season of turmoil and hard work and general crossness we used to call spring cleaning is clear out of date? We women are only just growing aware of it ourselves. When the men really sense the fact I expect they’ll add a new Thanksgiving Day to the calendar.

We decided, by way of experiment, to make a change in the method of carrying out our program and to conduct it as a discussion with a leader who should start things and sound the keynote. She was also expected to link the prepared talks together, fill in the chinks, preside over a free-for-all discussion after the papers were read and sum things up at the close. Quite a responsible job, wasn’t it?

We had a clever woman to do it, though, when Lena Morgan took hold, for she is not only a neat and systematic housekeeper who knows a lot about cleaning, but a short career as a school-teacher taught her to use her wits and voice readily when she stands before folks. We appointed seven other women to give ten-minute talks on house-cleaning topics and asked them to confer with Lena so as to keep their ideas in harmony with the general spirit of the topic of the afternoon.

It was one of those early spring days which don’t mean anything, really, but make you think that perhaps spring may be on the way. The ground was soft and there was a gentle warmth in the air when one stood in the doorway; our heavy winter coats felt burdensome when we walked out. Such a day is like a letter from spring to tell us she has started north. It made us feel like furbishing up our homes in welcome. I knew when our club women came into the house for the meeting that they were in a mood for our program.

Nine Things to Remember.

Lena began briskly by reading a group of rules, explaining them as she went along. Here they are:

Keep clean and you won’t have to make a grand annual effort to get clean.

Keep no rubbish about the house-especially moth-collectors.

Pots and pans should be scoured whenever they need it and not be saved up for a tiresome orgy of cleaning.

Keep a list of repairs and of things which need replacing, as you discover them.

The renovating of walls, floors and woodwork can be left until the fires are out.

Don’t tear up more than one room at a time if it can be avoided.

Don’t try to do more than a day’s work in a day.

Have a helper for heavy jobs— and save a doctor’s bill.

Keep comfortable and keep your family comfortable.

Lena used the blackboard to write down a list of the things which could be put to rights early, at any convenient time. I noticed on this list the cleaning of the attic, closets and trunks, sewing machine and dresser drawers.

The Family’s Comfort

When all the fires were out and the housewife wished to clear out the last signs of the smoke and dirt of winter she could tear up a single room at a time, clean and settle it in a day with the least possible stir and disorder. Lena asserted that the housekeeper who kept her house up properly did not need to find spring house cleaning a heavy burden and that a house which had to be cleaned up by a great upheaval was either run on an out-of-date plan or was kept in a slovenly fashion. Everyone shrugged and rustled and whispered as she said it.

I’m sure few men will believe that we gave any time to the topic of how to keep the family comfortable during house cleaning, but we did. The speaker told us in practical detail how to organize our work so as to clean and settle a room in a day. Then she recommended that we serve especially generous and nourishing meals during spring cleaning instead of the usual slighted and scanty ones. Such a plan would refresh the workers and keep the family good-natured too. We copied down a list of foods which could be cooked up in advance, such as good, rich soup stock, a pudding or two, baked beans, scalloped potatoes and macaroni and cheese, as well as some meats and a big jar of cookies.

“Who says housekeeping isn’t a real business?” whispered my neighbor as we listened to a clear-cut talk on the uses and benefits of an inventory of household goods. The speaker showed us the various lists of her family belongings, posted on a card index and fitted neatly into a wooden box. On a card marked silver was a list of the family silver; the best set of china, the everyday set and miscellaneous dishes each had a card. If dishes were broken after they were listed that fact was noted.

I saw a list of kitchen utensils and one of cans of fruit and of glasses of jelly. Wasn’t that a clever idea? Then a housewife could keep track of how much the family can use each year, and the cost of canning it. Table linen, with notes about patterns, was on still another card, together with the cost and date of purchase, whenever she knew it: Towels had their card and so had bed linen. The bedding, with details and the place where unused bedding was stored, was listed on other cards. There was a fine inventory of family clothing, its cost, and other items. We were told that friendly small things were stored together in boxes and an inventory told just where to find them. It made me envious. If I’d had such a system in my house I wouldn’t have needed to rummage through all my boxes and trunks last week when I tried to find some old embroidered trimming for my dressmaker.

There was a great clatter of brushes and cans and a clicking of bottles when Annie Morris came to the front to talk on cleaning equipment. Annie tackled her subject with all the zest of a canvasser displaying his wares and showed us a lot of clever contraptions in the way of labor-saving devices. She wrote out a list of the equipment she recommended, and told us to have it ready for use in advance of the spring-cleaning period.

I mean to have a wool brush like Annie’s for cleaning wall paper. But I’ll not pay a dollar for mine, for I’m sure I can make one to serve the purpose. All I’ll need will be a piece of cleaned sheep’s pelt and a block to tack it on to and an old broom handle fastened to the block. I don’t know any short cut by which I can get hold of a dust brush such as painters use, except by planking down the money. Still, it will be worth buying for the clever way in which it licks the dust out of inaccessible cracks and corners.

Twenty minutes was allowed the speaker on Walls, Woodwork, Floors and Furniture, and she didn’t waste a minute. I can’t begin to repeat all she said, though all her listeners took pages of notes. She warned us that if woodwork needed cleaning it should be thoroughly done or the wood finish would be ruined. She then described three methods of cleaning finished wood. The first was cleansing with tepid suds made of a mild soap. No more than a yard of woodwork should be washed at a time; it should then be rinsed in clear warm water and dried thoroughly. The second method—one I like, myself, in spite of the horrid odor—is to clean with a cloth moistened with kerosene. The wood should finally be rubbed thoroughly with a clean cloth. . The third method—particularly good for white paint—is to clean with warm water, with whiting; the woodwork should then be carefully rinsed and dried. We were told that if we wanted to keep paint and varnish from cracking or growing powdery in the air it was wise to rub it once a year with paraffin oil. This treatment restores to the finish the oils it loses as it ages. Rubbing with linseed oil or with paraffin oil lengthens the life and saves the looks of linoleum.

We filled up two or three more pages of our notebooks as we listened to the talk on carpets, rugs, draperies and bedding. One suggestion seemed designed especially for me. I’ve been wanting a brown rug for my sitting room but couldn’t find it in my conscience to get it, for the old rug was sound though it was faded and ugly. It was a godsend to learn that I could dye the old rug myself by mixing up two or three packages of brown dye with the necessary hot water, according to package directions, and applying the color to the rug with a scrubbing brush. I’ll try a piece first before I plunge into the job, and I’ll lay the rug on a floor which can’t be hurt as I work.

When the discussion opened and Lena invited everyone to take part, a perfect babel of questions and remarks arose which Lena had to regulate and quell. As we adjourned, our hostess brought out her new vacuum cleaner and showed us how thoroughly it cleaned carpets and upholstered pieces so we could scarcely beat out the slightest dust from the fabrics afterward. Katy and Sarah and I live close together and we’ve just about decided to get one on shares. I figure I’ll about save the cost of my share when I dye my old rug so I won’t need a new one.

The Country Gentleman, Vol. 82, 31 March 1917: pp. 42-43

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will not bore you with the byzantine details of Spring Cleaning at the Hall, which is always done when the Family is away. Suffice it to say that, although Mrs Daffodil attempts to follow the “keep clean” axiom above, there is always upheaval and invariably something more to do if one looks closely.  One year she was appalled to find that a negligent housemaid had dumped all of her sweepings into the Tudor chest in the entrance hall. Another year, a footman’s room was found to be over-run with vermin of every description; he and his room-mate had been in the habit of pocketing unused bits from the Family’s tea-tray; the remnants attracted an infestation that was most difficult to eradicate. His Lordship thoughtfully transferred the two onto the staff of the pig-man, rather than giving them the sack, but they quickly found more congenial employment.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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2 thoughts on “The Ins and Outs of Spring-Cleaning: 1917

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Such rituals as black-leading the stove, sweeping carpets with tea-leaves and a broom, and cleaning smutted glass lamp chimneys were deeply unpleasant. Mrs Daffodil remembers with relief the day the Hall got its first electrical vacuum machine and could leave the tea-leaves to Cook for reading the maids’ futures.

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