Quick Facts

Condition: Original

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About the Wash House

Washing laundry at Mount Vernon was a hot and difficult job that required a lot of time. Laundry for the Washington family, their guests, and single white male workers were washed here. Enslaved women, including two named Vina and Dolsey, worked as washerwomen here. To do a load of laundry, they carried 25 to 30 buckets of water from a nearby well and boiled it in a hot-water stove. They plunged it into the hot water and hand-scrubbed the fabrics with a soap made of lye and animal fat. White fabrics were sometimes draped over bushes in the yard to dry because the combination of sunlight and the chlorophyll in the leaves worked as a natural bleach. Other items were hung on clotheslines. In wet weather, laundry was placed on wooden drying racks indoors. The washerwomen used irons heated in the fire and/or a large wooden mangle to press the laundry.

The constant stream of guests at Mount Vernon kept the washerwomen quite busy. One guest noted that the enslaved workers “took care of me, of my linen, of my clothes,” treating him “not as a stranger but as a member of the family.” Given the often-confusing mix of family members and visitors, clothing and linens were often marked with their owners’ initials in order to avoid mix-ups.

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