That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for women…

I started writing a long entry on the post-war period but I’m buried under piles of work. So I thought I’d use part of the text for a short item.

The introduction of the birth control pill is always held up as the catalyst of the sea change that took place in women’s position and role in British society in the 1960s. While the Pill undoubtedly liberated women sexually, enabling them to control the number of babies they had, I would argue that access to affordable washing machines was just as important.

Prior to the 1960s, washing clothes usually involved a round copper tub, a scrubbing board and a mangle (wringer). “On wash day, clothes were boiled in a copper tub, rubbed on a scrubbing board, perhaps washed again, rinsed in clean water once or twice, wrung out (through a wringer or by hand) and hung out to dry.” Just imagine, if you can, the amount of time and energy that went into doing the family laundry.This Australian Web page includes an amusing TV commercial.

Going from this

to this

or even this

was one giant technological leap.

For washing machine enthusiasts there are lots more photos of collections here.

When I was young, our flat had a “copper” in the kitchen for heating water, which would then be scooped into the bath just next to it. (Please note: bath in the kitchen).

There was a large drying room on our floor for hanging clothes, plus washing lines in the “square” (yard) below the flats for when the weather was fine. (There was also a large air raid shelter and bike sheds at one end).

When my wife was a little girl, living at an unspoilt beach on the Paciific Coast of Costa Rica, her family had neither electricity or running water. She washed her clothes with a stone she carefully selected herself. I imagine the scene was something along these lines.

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2 Responses to That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for women…

  1. Hi Peter:

    Where have you been? I’m glad you’re back.

    In Bugaba, where my mother was born. Her family went to a small river (Río Piedra) to wash their clothes.

    The scrubbing board was a large flat rock, smoothed out by the flowing of the water for hundreds of years.

    Once the clothes were washed, they were placed on a large pan which they located on top of their heads. Like circus artists, they perfectly balanced those heavy large pans on top of their heads without using their hands.

    It was time to back home and hang the clothes to dry under the bright Bugaba sun.

    No washing machines back then either.

    Good Day!


  2. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Omar. I’ve just been very busy. As I work on a computer all day, it’s quite a relief when I get to switch it off! Doing a post can take me quite a while.

    We have good friends in Bugaba.

    There are still plenty of people who wash their clothes in rivers in these countries.

    Nice to hear from you. By the way, in case you want to contact me any time, my email address is


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