Before we abandon the subject of clotheslines and their place in the lives of ages gone by, there is one more theme in postcards to be considered. It is a mysterious concept, and an elusive commodity nowadays, but SOME of our ancestors prized it highly. They called it “Privacy”.
It is one of my hidden beliefs that our ancestors were not ALL that different from us in many ways. (I go into this more fully in a never-demanded lecture called “Victorian Applications of New Communication Technologies”: it’s a rouser.) And much though, in my heart, I would like to think differently, I have a feeling a number of our ancestors would have been perfectly comfortable in a world where we now post pictures online of what we ate for dinner, what we stole in our latest burglary, whom we had sex with, and the results of the baby’s paternity test.
Still, our ancestors claimed to value privacy, and having one’s clothes out on the line was a risk of that [privacy. We even had a phrase to describe people who made a fuss about things that were too personal: they were “airing their dirty linen in public”. And you will note that the lady displaying her underdrawers on the line, above, is credited to California, still at that time (and actually now) a part of the Wild West.
One did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to make deductions from what one saw on a person’s clothesline. This is one reason some authorities suggested you hang up certain garments under the drying sheets, or inside the drying pillowcases
Drying certain nether garments in public were believed to have an impact on one sex in particular.
It would at least create certain assumptions and expectations on the part of the viewer.
And might draw unwelcome (or apparently sometimes welcome) comment. .
But what really bothered our ancestors were that that the display would bring on criticism. You could count on passersby the think negative thoughts about the wearer of such underwear.
The greatest fear apparently being that people might make the assumption that this was ALL the underwear you owned hanging on the line at the same time
They might even take advantage of the situation.
It happens often enough in the postcards to make ME, assume that, after all, it may sometimes have happened that way.
Though I’m not sure it ever went as far as some postcards suggest.