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FEBRUARY 2008: Women’s History Month
There was a schoolhouse in Fort Lauderdale from 1900 when only five families resided there so the children would be gone most of the day.

On Monday morning you would set fires to heat the wash water and your cook stove, which was also outside so as not to catch the house on fire. A caldron would be filled with water from a stream, the coffee pot with rainwater. The caldron would be set atop the fire to heat while you boiled coffee and prepared a breakfast of oatmeal, bananas and raisins or bread, which you had baked on Saturday, toasted piece by piece over the fire and hoped none fell in the coals. That would be served with sea grape jelly or marmalade, which you would have made over the holidays for gifts and to replenish your pantry.

After washing dishes, you would fill two basins of water from the boiling caldron and set them aside. Soap and everyday clothes would be thrown in the caldron and mashed with a pole to loosen the dirt. Once the water got no dirtier, the clothes would be lifted out with the pole and water tipped out. The fire would be stoked and more water added to the caldron to boil. By then the basin water would have cooled enough to wash and rinse your dainty things which you would then hang somewhere out of view.

That usually left time to weed your garden and pick everything that was ripe. A quick lunch on washday would be eggs, cucumber and tomato salad and soda water. This was an excellent way to get your vitamin C when the rainwater became cloudy and tasted bad. Lemon juice and sugar syrup was added and a pinch of baking soda to make it fizz.

Once the rinse water was boiling the clothes went back in and were mashed until the water got no dirtier. The clothes were lifted out and laid out until they were cool enough to wring out and hang on lines. If the dainty clothes were dry enough, you would put two irons on the stove to heat. You had to mind that they not get too hot or you would scorch your blouses. So as the first iron started to get cold, you would take the second one off the fire to cool slightly before using it.

Electricity didn’t come to Fort Lauderdale until 1913. The first two appliances were the toaster and the iron. You could tell who held the purse strings by which one was bought. The men opted for the toaster and the women, the iron.

On Tuesdays the ironing continued and women worked on making the family clothing. That was easier than keeping them clean, especially if the man of the house wore woolen suits. To clean them, you ripped out all the seams, tacked each piece to a thick board, washed and rinsed the pieces and set them in the shade to dry. In a day or two, when the fabric was still damp, you would remove each piece, iron it, sew the suit together and give it a good pressing.

Dinner would most likely consist of homegrown vegetables such as corn, beans, squash and yams plus local fish or game. White Irish potatoes did not tolerate the heat well. Pompano was a favorite as were venison, duck, turkey, rabbit, raccoon and squirrel. The men would catch the critters and the women would gut, clean and prepare them.

Everyone enjoyed sweets and the local pineapples and coconuts made a delicious combination. Melons and citrus were plentiful but there was no fresh milk. The insect population drove cows mad and they actually died of their misery so expensive canned milk was used. Key Lime pie was a favorite and one of the few desserts that is better using evaporated milk than fresh.

To deal with flying insects, women would wrap newspapers inside their stocking and blouses and wear hats with veils and gloves outdoors. Indoors, they managed the ants by placing table legs in cans of kerosene to prevent them from climbing onto the table and into the dinner plates. During this time before screens, windows were covered with cheesecloth to keep out mosquitoes but cutting off most of the breezes through the rooms.

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