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Mrs. Frederick Teaches Women How to Wash the Dishes

As the principles of scientific management came to play a more significant role in the workplace, some reformers sought to apply these principles to any aspects of daily life that might be improved by standardization and routine. Perhaps no one applied the principles of scientific management to the home with as much passion as Christine Frederick, the household editor of Ladies Home Journal as well as the National Secretary of the Associated Clubs of Domestic Science. In 1912, she published a four-part series in the Ladies Home Journal that promised less housework. Each article opened with a box recounting Frederick Taylor’s principles of scientific management. “Taylorization” made it possible for (compelled, really) steelworkers to quadruple their usual output, and Frederick implied that Taylor’s principles would also result in a four-fold increase in home productivity. Frederick’s articles were enormously popular. Although Frederick posed as an impartial efficiency expert, she had very close ties to appliance and kitchen-equipment manufacturers and helped lend scientific legitimacy to new products. In this excerpt from the first article in this series, Frederick described how to wash dishes correctly and efficiently.


By Mrs. Christine Frederick

National Secretary of the Associated Clubs of Domestic Science


A BRICKLAYER used to lay 120 bricks in an hour. A man who studied the subject carefully prepared an adjustable table to be placed at the bricklayer’s side, so that he wouldn’t have to stoop, and had the bricks delivered on it in just the right position, so that the bricklayer wouldn’t have to turn every brick right side up. The result is that the same bricklayer who laid only 120 bricks an hour under the old method now can lay 350 bricks in the same time without any more exertion.

This is a good sample of what modern “efficiency” and “scientific management” are doing in factories, stores and offices everywhere, revolutionizing all kinds of work.

It is housework’s turn now to get revolutionized, and these articles tell in detail just how it is being done. Mrs. Frederick, a mother and housewife herself, and unusually well qualified for her work as the National Secretary of the Associated Clubs of Domestic Science, has given years of practical study to the subject.



Usually after our dinner I wash forty eight pieces of china, twenty-two pieces of silver and ten utensils and pots, or eighty pieces in all; and for years I never realized that I actually made eighty wrong motions in the washing alone, not counting others in the sorting, wiping and laying away. Like all other women I thought that there couldn’t be much improvement in the same old task of washing dishes.

The drainboard of my sink is at the right. Now imagine me at the sink, dishes in dishpan, with a tray at my right to lay the dishes on when washed. What do I do? I take up a plate with my left hand and scour it back and front with the dishcloth which I hold in my right hand. Then I pass my left hand across my right arm, away over the tray, and lay the plate on the tray. I move my left arm across my right arm in this awkward way every time I lay a dish on the tray. If I didn’t do this I would have to drop the cloth from my right hand and change the plate from my left hand (in which I had held it while washing it) to my right hand, which would lay it on the tray. What else could I do? I will tell you in a minute.

I measured the height of the bottom of my sink from the floor and found it was only 24 inches. The sink basin was only 5 1/4 inches deep. That is why the water slopped over the pan and over the edge of the sink. Besides, our builder had carefully planned a dish closet over the sink at the exact height to strike the top of my head when I bobbed it up from my work!

Now for some other mistakes: I didn’t scrape my dishes thoroughly, so the water became greasy very soon. I sloshed a cake of soap about in the water, particles of which stuck to the edges of the dishes. I used a tray to drain on, and the bottom dishes became cold and sloppy before they could be dried. My towels became wet, and I had to walk to the hall shelf for others. I dried the dishes and laid them on the table, then I picked them up (a second handling) and carried them to the pantry at the far end of the kitchen.

Proper Height of Sink and Table

It took me forty-five minutes to scrape, wash and dry those eighty dishes by using wrong methods, now I wash the same number of pieces in thirty minutes, or a gain of fifteen minutes.

How did I do it? I couldn’t raise the sink because it is built in at that height; but I raised my pan four inches by placing it on an inverted sink-strainer (or I might have bought a sink-rack, costing ten cents, for the same purpose.) Lifting the pan to a table or the top of a set tubs is not wise, as the pan must be lifted up and down each time the water needs changing. Neither could I make the sink deeper. Stupidity of builders is the only reason why sinks are low and shallow, and why out of sixty house and apartment sinks examined recently two-thirds measured only from 22 to 30 inches from the floor.

I have made careful tests on women of different heights to find the approximate proper height of sink for any given height of woman. A uniform ratio seems to be in effect: for every five inches difference in the woman’s height there is a corresponding change of two inches and a half in the proper height of sink, table or ironing-board. That is, the best height for a woman 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall is 2 feet 5 inches, or 29 inches. For a woman five inches taller the proper height is 2 feet 7 1/2 inches, or 31 1/2 inches. I have also found that the proper and best height for a table is, for the same woman, the proper height for the bottom of her sink to be from the floor, and the best height for her ironing-board. This shows that there is one best height for all working surfaces in the home at which the least strain is felt on the arms.

Look at the following figures and see if your ironing-board or sink or table is at the proper level for your height:

[see next page]


4 feet 10 inches27 inches

4 feet 1127 1/2

5 feet28

5 feet 128 1/2

5 feet 229

5 feet 329 1/2

5 feet 4 30

5 feet 530 1/2

5 feet 631

5 feet 731 1/2

5 feet 832

5 feet 932 1/2

5 feet 1033

5 feet 1133 1/2

The Best Position for a Drainboard

Fortunately, I was able to have my drainboard changed from the right to the left of the sink, which is always the one best position for a drainboard. Now I pick up a plate with my left hand, scour it with the cloth held in the right hand, and lay the plate on the tray with my left hand, without changing hands or passing my left arm across my right arm. My left hand is capable of repeating the “laying-down motion” very fast and very easily, while the right hand never drops the cloth, but scours one dish after another rapidly. Try it and see the difference it makes. Had I not been able to change the drainboard from right to left I might have wheeled a table to the left side of the sink. I also bought a wire dish-drainer costing 50 cents, and a soap-shaker, a dish-mop and a plate-scraper costing 10 cents each. Then I carefully separated the whole process into three operations: scraping and stacking, washing, drying and laying away.

My first step was: Pots and pans filled with water. Dishes scraped with plate-scraper and stacked as to size, at right of worker. Towels to hand, hot suds made in pan by soap-shaker.

My second step was: Glassware placed in pan, washed with mop or small-handled brush in right hand, lifted to drain-rack with left hand. Silver placed to soak in pan, while glass is dried, sorted, placed on tray and carried to place. Repeat process with silver, drying and sorting onto tray at the same time, and remove to place.

My third step was: Dishes of same kind placed in pan, washed, lifted out by left hand to dishdrainer. Pour scalding water on dishes in drainer and leave to dry without wiping, while the pots and pans are scoured with a combination wire-bristle brush. If there is a hot-water faucet a method that saves still more steps and time is to attach a foot or two of rubber hose and spray the dishes from the nozzle. Dishes are dry by the time pots are finished. Lift dishes from drainer, sort and stack on to tray, and carry to place. Hang up pots, pans and all utensils. Rinse out towels and hang to dry.

Note, please, that my drainer is at my left and the dishes are stacked to the right. (The ideal arrangement is a drainboard on each side of the sink.) This will make a difference of ten minutes on a task requiring forty-five minutes. Note also that dishes, and particularly silver, are sorted as laid down on the tray. Note that the drainer does away with all wiping of the dishes. This cuts the time down considerably and saves the necessity of rubbing each piece with a dish-towel of doubtful cleanliness. While the dishes are drying the pots are cleaned with a wire-bristle brush.]

“Don’t you wipe the dishes at all ?” some woman will ask. What is the use, when it is unnecessary and takes useless time? The glass must be wiped, of course, because very hot water cannot be poured on it; silver must be wiped because it doesn’t dry itself as china does. Rinsing in scalding water gives china a better gloss than hand polishing.

The Arrangement of Utensils

One of the simplest things I did to eliminate lost motion was to alter the place where the kitchen towels were kept, from the hall linen-closet to the kitchen-table drawer. This point brings me to the whole matter of arrangement of the utensils used by women in their home work.

A young bride recently showed me her new kitchen. “Isn’t it a beauty?” she exclaimed. It certainly had modern appliances of every kind, but her stove was in a recess of the kitchen at one end and her pantry was twenty feet away at the opposite end. Every time she wanted to use a frying-pan she had to walk twenty feet to get it, and after using it she had to walk twenty feet to put it away.

This question of arrangement and the placing of tables and tools must be considered if the worker is to obtain the highest efficiency.

First the stove, sink, and kitchen table must be placed in such a relation that useless steps are avoided entirely. It might be practical to turn a pantry into a kitchenette, using a pantry sink for all purposes and hanging all utensils within reach of the worker. A kitchen cabinet is one of the best forms of step-saver. Instead of stooping for pots and pans they may stand on a shelf, and a rack fastened to the wall will hold their covers. Casters may be put on the kitchen table so that it may be moved nearer the stove or sink when needed. Instead of laying away utensils in a pantry drawer twenty feet distant they may be hung on a rack over the table, or suspended from beneath a shelf over the table. Kitchen knives should be kept in pockets of leather strips tacked at intervals at a handy place, so that the blades will not become blunted, as they do in drawers.

These are only a few of the ways in which any housewife can modify her kitchen arrangement for better efficiency. She must seek compactness without crowding, have a “place for everything,” and aim to have tools and utensils kept above the table level rather than below it, where she must stoop to lay them away. Her kitchen table, her molding-board and her ironing-board, as well as her sink, should be high enough to allow arm movement without fatigue. It is a wrong idea that many women have of making their kitchens look like other rooms, with tools tucked away out of sight. A kitchen is a workshop, where efficiency should rule over mere looks. . . .

Source: Christine Frederick, “The New Housekeeping: How it Helps the Woman Who Does Her Own Work,” Ladies Home Journal, September 1912, 13, 70–71.