I’ve found several widows on my family tree who listed “laundress” as their occupation in the census. One was my great-grandmother, Nancy Jane Vining. Her parents were Ellenor and Ezra Babcock and she was first married to Burr Ashlock. After his death, she married James Vining. They 13 children together to go with the 3 children from her first marriage.
Life wasn’t easy for them. Her oldest son, James Ashlock, died at age 9. The following year, their infant son, William, died before his first birthday. Just four years later, their daughter, Sarah, entered the insane asylum in her teens. You can read her story at What Happened to Sadie Vining?
James and Nancy Jane were married 24 years before he died of typhoid. Her youngest child, Ruth, was less than a year old. Two of the sons were old enough to help support the family after James’ death.
By 1910, most of the children were grown and married. Nancy Jane at age 59 still had 17-year-old Scelia, 16-year-old Albert, and 12-year old Ruth at home. The family lived in Tyro, Kansas, and Nancy Jane worked as a laundress.
The graphic below is a romanticized version of laundry day in the 1920s. Possibly in 1910, my great-grandmother was scrubbing clothes each day on a washboard in a wooden tub. Perhaps Albert helped by carrying buckets of water. Scelia was old enough to be a help too and perhaps even Ruth assisted.
Fri, Apr 7, 1922 – page 5 · The Morning News (Coffeyville, Kansas) · Newspapers.com
There is another possibility to go with this occupation. Henry Vining had a relative, Aaron Vining, who co-owned a commercial laundry in Neodesha. It’s possible that he employed the Widow Vining there. I’m unsure of the logistics involved for Nancy Jane to travel to Neodesha if she worked there.
Our 3rd cousin, Nancy Henning has a wonderful photo of Aaron and Carrie Vining’s laundry in 1912. I stare at the faces but can’t tell if Nancy is among them.
I don’t have many photos of the Widow Vining. The one below was taken to send to her son Albert while he was over in France for World War I. Standing behind her are daughters, Lucy and Ruth. She was 67-years-old. None of the women in the photo of the laundry look old enough to be Nancy.