We have all seen thousands of advertisements yet we remember very few. However one advertisement made such an enormous impression on me, fifty years ago, that I still remember it clearly. It was an advertisement for the first fully automatic washing machine.
I was twelve years old at the time, the second eldest of ten children. And we did have a washing machine. Every Monday evening of my childhood, as soon as I arrived in from school, my brother Eddie and I did the washing—with the aid of this antique. It was an awful, laborious job.
My mother pulled the machine out into the middle of the kitchen and filled it with pots of water. These had been heating all day on the range. Eddie and I prepared to start. We filled an old bath full of rinsing water, got the wringer set up and off we went!
For hours he turned the handle of this wringer as I fed miles of wet clothes through it—load after load, from the machine, to the rinsing water, back again, next load, get clean water, keep turning, mop up the mess—on and on it went.
My mother, whilst hanging out each load of washing, changed diapers, fed babies, heard our spellings and got our tea. And Eddie kept turning the handle of the wringer and I kept feeding it—all evening long.
I appreciated that we were probably luckier than others who only had a washboard, but to me it was an awful, long-drawn-out, messy, wet job—week in week out!
And then I saw the advertisement.
In a beautiful, tidy big kitchen two ladies sat. They were immaculately dressed in costumes, drinking coffee from china cups. As they delicately sipped, one said to the other “I am doing my washing.”
In the background was a fully automatic washing machine working away. In detail, the advertisement described what it could do and I was completely overwhelmed by it. I ran around the house shouting for Eddie, and the two of us sat together on the step at the back door, absorbing every detail. “Look,” he said. “It takes in the water and heats it!” “And washes and rinses all by itself,” I added in awe. “Do you really not have to take out the clothes, not even once—or change the water?,” we asked each other in wonder. We were totally fascinated by the mechanics of it all.
I cut out this picture and studied every detail. The magic of the machine and the order of the kitchen became an ideal for me to aspire to. As I fed miles of sudsy wet diapers into the wringer, each following Monday, I removed myself mentally from the melee and dreamed instead of a future like the ladies in the ad.
Some years later fully automatic washing machines were mass produced and became a lot cheaper. In 1972 my mother bought one. On the evening it was delivered we were all excited and delighted. We attached the hose to the tap, put the overflow pipe into the sink and pulled our chairs in front of it. We sat watching the machine for two hours. I was going to write—‘how sad were we?’ But I can’t! I can’t, because I clearly remember how excited we were!
We watched the clothes tumble away behind the glass door. We watched the dirty sudsy water empty into our sink. We watched it fill again and again as it rinsed our clothes. And none of us had to get up off our chairs, not even once. It was the best evening’s entertainment we had for years!
I was a young teacher in Dublin at that time. When I returned to work, the following Monday, my pupils’ mothers were outside my classroom door, as usual. One woman announced that she had just bought an automatic washing machine. The others mothers were suitably impressed, as was I.
Four months later this woman called to my classroom to collect her son. “We’ve to go into town to buy a new washing machine,” she told me. “The other one is worn out.” I expressed great surprise as how this could have occurred so soon. She told me that her washing machine was wheeled down her garden path every Monday and pushed into her two neighbors’ houses! The following day it was pushed down the road to her other friends. Every day of the week her new washing machine was pushed up and down her estate. It washed the clothes of everyone in her area. “Mrs. Malone washed six pairs of runners in it”, she told me. “And it just stopped dead.” Buying a new one seemed to be no problem.
My mother was quite fascinated by this story. It was almost beyond her comprehension. She expected her new machine to last her lifetime.
I have many modern appliances in my house, as we all have nowadays. I appreciate all their wonders, especially my fully automatic washing machine. Every time I hear it doing its work I smile to myself and say silently—like those ladies in the ad, “I’m doing my washing!”
Automatic washing machines and contraceptives are the two greatest liberators for women, in Ireland, in my lifetime.