It is often the case that, as soon as you start to research a topic, you see it everywhere. This is particularly true for me when it comes to exhibits, and it can last for years; I still find myself noticing past themes (pets, pianos, fences. . .) in our photograph collections. While working on our current exhibit, I realized how ubiquitous laundry is: clotheslines in the background of snapshots; advertisements for detergents in magazines; references to wash day in letters, memoirs, novels. . . . Once you’re on the alert, laundry is everywhere.
Laundry can even be found on the back of this postcard. Its primary use in the library is as an historic image, capturing “Main Street, Poolesville, Md.,” but the message on the back is another way to look at life in Poolesville circa 1910.
Addressed to Mrs. J.S. Poole, 1520 R St NW, Washington D.C. Postmarked Beallsville, year not visible. Message: “Package received – many thanks. Hope the buttons will soon come. I had a pr. of gloves cleaned & sent to 1520 R., please keep them for me. Hope to see you next Thursday [kindly] N.D.P. Please hurry buttons.”
The recipient of the postcard was Annie Evelyn Poole, who has shown up on “A Fine Collection” several times this summer; she and her daughters had a summer home near Rockville, but wintered in an apartment on R Street in D.C. The sender, N.D.P., is not positively identified, and it’s possible that this card came from Mrs. Poole’s bachelor brother-in-law Nathan Dickerson Poole (1843-1912); but I suspect it was sent by Nannie Dickerson Poole (1869-1928), Mrs. Poole’s niece by marriage. Nannie D. Poole was born and raised in Poolesville; she lived with her younger brother, farmer William Wallace Poole, Jr., and his family for many years before marrying widower Harvey White (1869-1950) in 1922. We have no photos of Miss Poole/Mrs. White in our own collections, but three images can be seen online thanks to the Monocacy Cemetery project – take a look here – she is stylishly dressed, and if she took as much care of her wardrobe as the images suggest, she might well have needed those buttons in a polite hurry.
Whether the Poolesville-area sender was Nathan or Nannie, he or she was willing and able to have accessories purchased (buttons, and whatever was in the other package) and maintained (gloves) in Washington D.C., some 30 miles away. (Convenient relatives in the city probably helped; I wish I knew whether Mrs. Poole was expected to make the button delivery in person.)
In this era, both men and women wore gloves much of the time; thus, gloves were often subject to both staining and the critical eyes of friends and neighbors. They also weren’t necessarily cheap, and must be treated with care. (Think of Jo and Meg March, left with only one pair of spoilt gloves to share, early in Little Women.) Household advice guides from the 19th and early-mid 20th century provided a variety of hints on cleaning leather, silk, and cotton gloves, such as. . .
–“Wash-leather gloves should be washed in clean suds, scarcely warm. . . . Cream of tartar, rubbed upon soiled white kid gloves, cleanses them very much.” Lydia Child, The American Frugal Housewife. Dedicated to Those Who are Not Ashamed of Economy, 1833
–”Clean kid gloves with gasoline, rubbing till dry.” Mrs. C.H. Merrill, ed., Cookery Craft, As Practiced in 1894 by the Women of the South Church, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 1894
–Put your gloves on your hands on and “wash them in gasoline in the same fashion as the hands are washed in water.” Sidney Morse, Household Discoveries, An Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes and Processes, 1908
Gloves also must be carefully dried, to maintain their shape. There were tools to make this easier, like this pair of plastic “Handiform Glove Dryers,” circa 1960. As the instruction sheet notes, “When you have dried your gloves on Handiform’s Glove Dryers, you have treated them as the manufacturer did when they were made. You have dried your gloves without stretching, smoothed the seams, restored their shape, finishing them like new.”
With all these complications, it’s no surprise that many people chose to send out their gloves, cuffs, collars, and other finicky accessories to be professionally cleaned by someone else. In 1910 there were many hand laundries, including several owned and operated by Chinese gentlemen, to choose from in Montgomery County and D.C.; unfortunately, the specific cleaner is not identified here, so we don’t know which business was patronized by this Poolesville resident. Nonetheless, N.D.P.’s postcard message – the kind of thing we might send over email or text today – serves as a concrete, if brief, reminder that all my abstract “people used to do laundry in this manner” research applied to specific individuals, once upon a time.
Postcard donated by the Poole family; glove dryers donated by Millicent Gay.
Laundry exhibit status: Neither the postcard nor the pink glove dryers made it into the exhibit, but the display does include a pair of metal glove-drying frames (1930s), as well as a number of 19th and 20th century gloves in various states of cleanliness.