The Way We Were: Washing clothes no easy task for those who had only a tub and ringer to do the work

This photograph of women doing laundry outside was likely taken sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It’s part of Naper Settlement’s collection, provided to the Naperville history museum by the Stark family.

While no exact date is known and the names of the people in the photo not recorded, it does capture what a laborious job it was to wash clothes with only a tub and a ringer — and later to have to hang it out to dry. The first manually controlled electric washing machine came on the market in the 1920s, according to, but it was not until the first automatic electric washer was available for purchase in 1937 that the job — and people’s lives — changed forever.