In the beginning, women just spread wet laundry over their fence rails or the shrubs in the back yard; at dinner time (noon, on a New England farm) they went outside and flipped everything over. Laundry lines appeared, tied between trees, from the sides of barns to the corner fencepost, etc.; women draped things over the lines, but had to keep a sharp eye on the wind—your laundry could be all over the dooryard in a matter of minutes.
And so there were clothespins…
The first were simply short pieces of sticks with a split in the middle. They worked fine until the stick split completely; some enterprising woman wrapped the top ends tightly in wet twine—when the twine dried, it tightened, making a solid top that split less often.
In the 1840s, there was a rush of clothespin ideas; inventors played around with length and width, choice of wood (oak, cedar, ash). There was a three-pronged design, which stuck on the line with two prongs on one side of the rope, one prong on the other—a sort of modified paper clip!
And in 1853, David M. Smith of Vermont, came up with the first two-piece, spring clamped clothes pin; it could not “be detached from the clothes by the wind as in the case with the common pin and which is a serious evil to washerwomen.”
I remember my grandmother’s laundry yard in Boston. It was a fenced-in section of the back yard (it was considered improper to have your laundry hanging in full view of the neighbors—goodness’ sake, they might see your underwear!). It had, as I remember, six laundry lines that overhung a series of boardwalks; access was from the laundry room door in the basement.
I loved the laundry room—it was warm, smelled of yellow bar soap, powdered Ivory Flakes and bleach; there was a shelf of colorful boxes and cans and a cloth bag of pins that dangled from a hook near the back door; several wicker baskets; it had a soapstone double sink big enough to get into when I was about five or six.
So, down the back stairs from the kitchen to the laundry room, out the door into the laundry yard; I remember sheets hanging nearly to my knees—bright, white-walled tunnels—and the blue sky up over my head; I remember running up and down the boardwalks, my Red Ball Jet sneakers going whop-whop-whop on the wooden slats.
Oh, the smell of those line-dried sheets!