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Ekstrom Library

Government Resources: History: Women's History

Pioneering Journeys of the Ingalls Family: Household Chores

Wash on Monday

Washing the family's clothes was often done on Mondays, and it took the entire day.  First water was heated in a metal boiler on a cookstove or in the fireplace. When the water came to a boil, soap shavings were added and the water was stirred until the soap dissolved. Next the clothes were dumped in. First the whites were washed, then the colored clothes, then the heavy work clothes. The clothes boiled for ten minutes and were then removed and rubbed with homemade soap and scrubbed on a ribbed washboard.  After all the clothes had been washed the tub was filled with fresh water to rinse the clothes with.

Iron on Tuesday

On Tuesday, Ma would iron the finer clothes. First she would starch them. Starch was made by boiling grated potatoes. The top was skimmed off until the starch that was left settled to the bottom of the pot. This was gathered, dried, and mixed with water to form a paste. One end of Ma's ironing board would lie on the table and the other on the bedstead, which Pa had made high on purpose. An iron was heated over a fire or stove. The clothing or material to be ironed was spread out, sprinkled with water, and then the heated iron was used to iron it.

Mend on Wednesday

Pioneer women spent evenings and free time mending clothing to make it last as long as possible. When clothing was completely worn out it was saved to make quilt pieces or rag rugs. Ma mended everything from Pa's shirts to the sheets on the bed. To make curtains for the Ingallses' new home on Plum Creek, Ma starched pieces of worn-out sheets and edged them with calico and pink strips from a dress of Carrie's that had been ripped. Ma did all of her sewing by hand until Pa bought her a sewing machine just before Laura married Almanzo in These Happy Golden Years .

Churn on Thursday

Churning was done once a week to make butter. In the winter the cream was not as yellow as in the summer, so Ma used carrot juice to color the cream. When the cream was ready, Ma put the long wooden dash into the churn and then put the cover over it. The dash was moved up and down through the hole in the cover until the cream was thick and grainy. Then Ma took the lump of butter out of the buttermilk and washed it several times in cold water until the water ran clear. Next the butter was salted. After that Ma molded the butter in the little butter-mold, which was carved in the shape of a strawberry with two strawberry leaves.

 Clean on Friday

All of the Little Houses had to be kept clean. A homemade broom was used to sweep until Ma got a boughten broom in On the Banks of Plum Creek .

When they were old enough Mary and Laura had chores to do. They must wash and wipe the dishes, sweep the floor, make the beds and dust. Laura was not allowed to dust the little china shepherdess that traveled with the family from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to Kansas Territory, Plum Creek in Minnesota, and finally, the Dakota Territory. Only Ma was allowed to touch the fragile shepherdess.

Bake on Saturday

Saturday was the day when most pioneer women baked what the family would need for the coming week.

Rest on Sunday


 Source: Pioneering Journeys of the Ingalls Family

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