Maison N°5, Rue Taison

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House n°5
Mr POINSIGNON Dominique, a launderer by his trade, practised his art at n°5, rue Taison, in 1809.

From the washerwomen beating linen at the river to the women working in the big laundering centres of the early 20th century, the profession has considerably evolved. Being a demanding and much feminised job, laundering has remained a source of gossip…

Proper linen
In the Middle Ages, within the Parisian bourgeoisie and in all the communities, notably the religious ones, the linen is cleaned at home. Hawkers sell ashes for the washing.
In the 17th century, the washerwomen go beat the linen at the river. While washing the linen, they contaminate the water. Therefore, in order to preserve public health, by-laws limit the number of places for the washing. Step by step, the first managers settle, notably on the banks of the Seine, in Paris. Everyday, they launder the linen of the great houses that employ them, for a monthly salary.
Moreover, right from the early 18th century, the laundresses are obliged to wash the linen in special boats. Saddle boats are then constructed. They are flat and covered, and their edges are fitted with washboards. The owners of the boats receive a fee of four “sous” (an old French currency) per person, plus one “sou” for the renting of the indispensable wash tub.

The development of hygiene and of the cleanliness treatments and the reduction of the number of working hours (the law of March 30th 1900) trigger a huge development of the profession. In the early 20th century, the maintenance of the linen of the capital gives work to 35000 people in Paris, and 25000 in the suburbs, which are mostly women.
The little laundering workshops are unsanitary, and the laundry rooms are ventilated through the door only, as the laundered linen blocks the windows. The steam released by the irons heated up with wood coal and gas pollutes the air in these narrow and cluttered hovels. The legislation aiming at improving the working conditions remains badly applied.
The laundresses work generally for two or three bosses. They receive wages, plus the right to wash their personal linen and their family’s for free. Men workers, really in minority, are almost exclusively hired as wash-house boys, delivery men, or in charge of mechanic works too tough for women.

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