The Washerwoman’s Genes


Visual arts, folklore, children’s stories, opera, . . . she crops up in many places. Who knew? Once, perhaps, she was a stereotype, when everyone needed a washerwoman. Today, the term seems antique, or perhaps primitive, a relic of some other more basic time.

Washerwoman vs. Laundress

My mom referred to her mother as a washerwoman. Jannette listed her occupation as the same in 1880. It’s the word for it. The Irish word, the English word. Laundress is softer, sweeter, not for us with the big hands. Washerwoman is Anglo-Saxon. Laundress is Old French, deriving from Latin. It came early into English, though, appearing in Middle English.

Googling Washerwoman/en:

For a term not in much use today—a term for an extinct household servant—the washerwoman results page is a few thousand items longer than you might expect. A few cleaning services show up, but mostly the links lead to works of art. Yeah: washerwoman as muse.


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