Title: How did the invention of the washing machine advance the cause of feminism?

Student name: Yuqin Huang


Course name: Fashion

Collage name: Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts

Date: 22/05/17



The development of the laundry has gone thought a long way, in this essay I talked about the history of the laundry through the past to now. People washed clothes by hands before, however the appearance of washing machines has changed people’s lives. We can see from the period of Pop Art, the painting by Richard Hamilton showed a range of automatically products, it means that the 1950s were pivotal for the American automobile industry. Besides, the post-World War II era brought a wide range of new technologies to the automobile consumer. Due to the lack of male labor, women had opportunity to work. The collage called “Rosie the Riveter” by J. Howard Miller showed a women raised her flexed arm and said “We can do it.” This reflected the right of women improved a lot at that time. However, after the World War II men returned home and eventually their occupations were occupied. Furthermore, clothing has long been considered a badge of cultural identity. And feminism itself has undergone significant change since the rise of second-wave feminism in the late 1960s. Female started to fight for wearing pants, how did women fight for the right of wearing? How did the fact vigorously promoted the process of the feminism? So in this essay I talked about how did the revolution of the laundry reflect feminism step by step?



Once upon a time, the way of tackling laundry is that washing in the river with a metal washboard and bar of hard soap. Washing clothes in the river is the normal way of doing laundry in many less-developed parts of the world. Even in prosperous parts of the world riverside washing went on well into the 19th century, or longer in rural areas – even when the river was frozen. Sometimes there are so many dirty clothes, so they may take special tools to the river to help the work: like a washing bat or a board to scrub on. At that time, due to the heavy housework and the responsibility of looking after kids, female didn’t have more leisure time to do what they really want. Nevertheless, washing machine is the basic appliances in our daily life, but the invention of washing machine went thought a long history.

Image from History of Laundry – after 1800, 2010


Actually, the earliest washing “machine” was the scrub board or wash board, invented in 1797. Then, American James King patented the first washing machine to use a drum in 1851 — the drum made King’s machine resemble a modern machine; however, it was still hand-powered.


The idea of washing by machine traced back to a long way, three early designs take turns being put forward as “first washing machine ever”. An early 17th century book by Jacopo Strada’s grandson Ottavio showed his 15th century idea for a washing machine, probably intended for use in textile manufacturing. Then in the 1670s John Hoskins experimented with putting fine laundry into a thick bag that could be soaked before squeezing with a “wheel and cylinder” mechanism. A 1691 English patent referred to an “engine” with a long list of possible uses, including clothes washing. But it is unlikely to get the royal approval. It’s not until the mid-1700s that we see signs of progress with labour-saving washing machines. In 1858, Hamilton Smith patented the rotary washing machine. In 1874, William Blackstone of Indiana built a birthday present for his wife. It was a machine which removed and washed away dirt from clothes. This was the first washing machine designed for convenient use in the home.

Image from History of Washing Machines up to 1800, 2011


It was a long way of development of laundry from the hand washing to the washing machine, it kind of reflected how hard it is for women to cope with housework, but the appearance of washing machine saved plenty of time, which have a opportunity for women to do they want.

Besides, from some art work that we can see the evidence how the development of the washing machine. The collage called Just What is it That Makes Today’s Home So different, So Appealing?, which is by an English printer and collage artist Richard Hamilton, ” The artist has combined cut-up photographs and cuttings from magazined to create a consumer paradise”( Butler, 1994) It shows the a range of the automatic product, such as the radio, the cleaners and telephone. Actually we can’t find the washing machine on the collage, so I won’t give the definitive answer to say that it’s necessary to use the washing machine at that time, but I am sure about the collage showed the culture of the 20 century, which the automatic products developed significantly and it has already exerted a subtle influence on people’s daily life.


Image from Just What is it That Makes Today’s Home So different, So Appealing?, Richard Hamilton


Technology played a significant role in World War II. Many wars had major effects on the technologies that we use in our daily lives. However, women also played a crucial role in America as their male counterparts were dispatched on multiple foreign fronts in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. With an abundance of opportunities available, women filled the jobs that were mostly occupied by men.  Many women began working in factories, manufacturing airplanes and working in shipyards; proving that women could perform “men’s work.”  Just as women’s role changed during World War II, it would change after the war was over and continue to evolve even today.

One of the common images associated with women during World War II is “Rosie the Riveter”, which is by J. Howard Miller. The image showed a women raised her flexed arm and said “We can do it.” The illustration was a way which the government to boost morale and recruit women into workforce.


Image from Gender Goles in A Post-War America, 2013


At that period, women worked in the industries and played a important role, so we can know the right of women improve a lot and people more respected the female. However, it’s unfortunate that the good time doesn’t last long, soon after the end of World War II, men returned home and eventually assumed their pre-war occupations that some women were occupying. So that some of women were compelled to go back home as a housewife and to take care of the kids while the husband went to work. As women were forced out of their wartime occupations and into the domesticity of the new American nuclear family, many women felt disenfranchised. Some women wanted to work, because they felt more passionate when they were working. I consider that female also have the right to choose the life they want.


Although I am doing menswear in my final major project, I want to talk about how women fight for the right of wearing “men’s wear”. In addition, my theme is about the “Indistinct”, which is means that not clear defined. It’s like the status of menswear and womenswear, I think there are no definite boundaries for men’s and women’s wear. Nowadays a lot of women wear the power suit and they consider that wearing unisex is a kind of way to show the personality, but we can’t believe how hard it is for women to fight for the right of wearing in the past, even just wore which was a very dangerous thing.

For instance, Mary Walker, military doctor, several times to wear trousers and was arrested until Congress passed legislation to give her privilege – the United States approved the military doctor Mary Edward Walker wear pants at work. She is the first woman to wear pants in the World War I. After the war she has been committed to women’s improvement, promotion of women’s rights movement. Furthermore, in 1932, the United States movie star Marlene Dieti also wear pants walking in the streets of Paris, the police detained her on a “bad style” accusation, after the feminist demonstrations in the police, the police were forced to release her. Until World War II completely broke the women to wear pants deadlock.

Image from YSL’s Le Smoking Suit, 1966, Helmut Newton


Feminist advanced the change of women’s wear. In 1966, Yves Saint Laurent promoted the famous “Le smoking”, which is the first female tail coats. It has indicated that the era of women wearing trousers is coming. Or put it to another way, wearing unisex clothes also advanced the development of feminism. Due to the unisex design like the thickened shoulder pads and stiff trousers, gave a power for female to fight for the right of women. Although previous the meaning of “human rights” is only the right of men. (the French Declaration of Human Rights in 1789) Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are not women’s rights. From the women’s citizenship declaration began, starting from the women’s conference, out of the pursuit of equal human rights, the wave of feminism began. Since then, the change of modern women has begun.

Traced back to the origin of the laundry, we can see how hard it is for the women to live and the development of washing machine went through a long process. Due to the invention of the washing machine, it saved more time and gave women a chance to “have a break”, so that in the World War II women had the opportunity to work in the industry, which showed the ability of women that they are not worse than men. Women strive for more equal right through their own efforts. Despite the development of feminism was not a straight way and I can’t say the invention of washing machine advanced the development of feminism directly, but to some extent, society gave more esteem to the women, which the contemporary women have raised the cultural consciousness and self-confidence. However, the fact that there are so many unfair to women, a struggle for feminism is still a long and difficult attempt to achieve.















Adam, Butler. The Art Book. London, Phaidon, 1994.

Bellis, Mary. “Check Out This History of Washing Machines.” ThoughtCo, 12 Apr. 2017, http://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-washing-machines-1992666. Accessed 13 May 2017.

“History of Laundry – after 1800.” Laundry History 1800s, Washing Clothes in the 19th Century, Victorian and Edwardian Laundering, 30 Sept. 2010, http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-of-washing-clothes.aspx. Accessed 2 May 2017.

“History of Laundry.” Laundry History, Washing Clothes in Middle Ages, Renaissance, Tudor, Restoration, Colonial, Georgian Times, 13 June 2010, http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-of-laundry.aspx. Accessed 25 Apr. 2017.

“History of Washing Machines up to 1800.” History of Earliest Washing Machines, Schäffer, Beetham’s Washing Mill, First Inventions, 14 Apr. 2011, http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-washing-machines.aspx. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Did Olympe De Gouges Spark Women’s Rights in France?” ThoughtCo, http://www.thoughtco.com/olympe-de-gouges-rights-of-woman-3529894. Accessed 13 May 2017.

Kgeorge, “Gender Goles in A Post-War America.” ThirdSight History, 13 April 2013, social.rollins.edu/wpsites/thirdsight/2013/04/13/gender-roles-in-a-post-war-america/. Accessed 9 May 2017.

Shardlow, Estella. “How Yves Saint Laurent Revolutionized Women’s Fashion By Popularizing The ‘Le Smoking’ Suit.” Business Insider, 8 Aug. 2011, http://www.businessinsider.com/ysls-greatest-fashion-hits-2011-8?IR=T. Accessed 21 May 2017.


Image List.



The Art Book