Spring also was the time to clean and disassemble wood stoves. Stoves were stored in wood sheds, carriage houses, or barns until cool weather.
During spring cleaning drawers and wardrobes were washed with a solution of carbolic acid. Red cedar oil was brushed into every crack and crevice to repel insects and fresh paper liners were placed on shelves and in drawers.
One early home economist described spring cleaning as “an abomination of desolation” that “breaks women’s backs and causes men to break the Ten Commandments.” Another home advice writer at the turn of the 20th century warned that “at the first onslaught all home comfort ends, and regular meals become irregular lunches, and a quiet night’s rest something sought but not found.” No one was immune from the hardships created by spring cleaning. Even the poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, ” ‘House’ is being ‘cleaned,’ I prefer pestilence.”
But as disruptive and tiring as it was, spring cleaning was a necessity in an era when wood or coal stoves and oil lamps filled homes with soot and ash all winter. There were no vacuum cleaners to regularly remove dirt and dust from carpets and no dry cleaning to maintain items which could not be washed. Through May 20 visitors to the Rogers Historical Museum can explore the misery that was spring cleaning through special theme tours of the 1895 Hawkins House.
The primary purpose of spring cleaning was to remove all dirt, dust, and soot from the home. But common spring cleaning practices also lessened the possibility of damage to clothing, carpets, and curtains by insects. Homemaking experts at the turn-of-the-20th century usually suggested beginning in the attic and working down, cleaning the front hall and the kitchen last. But in the Hawkins House the various aspects of the spring cleaning process are illustrated all at once in the different rooms.
The Rogers Historical Museum is located at 322 South Second Street, at the corner of Second and Cherry in the Rogers Historic District. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and general admission is free. For more information call 479-621-1154 or visit www.rogershistoricalmuseum.org.