Anne E. Lawrence is a self-described “Clothesline Historian and Hobbyist.”
Lawrence has been collecting clothesline memorabilia of every kind for the past 35 years and often presents on the subject in the Ann Arbor area.
Her earliest memories on the subject began when she was a little girl, as she helped her mother hang clothes outdoors.
“With the wet laundry piled high in a wicker basket at her right, Mom would hold out her left hand beckoning for a clothespin,” Lawrence described. “Standing at her left side, I would reach into the weathered canvas bag hanging from the line and grab a clothespin. I was careful to point the knob top the right way to make it easier for her to clasp the fabric onto the line. I remember the specific squeak that clothespin made as it was pushed down onto the cloth and line. This special job made me feel grown up and important. We continued this pleasant routine until the five overhead lines were full, on the back porch of our two-family house in Boston.”
Later in 1966, Lawrence, came across a photo of her mother, “leaning over our back porch railing, with a small batch of laundry fluttering on the lines behind her. Little did I know then how I would come to cherish that precious photo. In it, Mom looked completely relaxed and peaceful – unlike any other photos of her,” she described.
This prompted Lawrence to begin searching for similar images of clotheslines portrayed in whatever forms she could find.
“I began informally by keeping an eye out for clotheslines everywhere I traveled,” explained Lawrence. “In gift shops, antique stores, boutiques, I would chat with shopkeepers, inquiring if they had any merchandise with images of clotheslines – of course they all gave me very strange looks! But once I explained my hobby, it would inevitably trigger memories of their own clothesline use, which would then lead to fun conversations, often involving other customers in the store. The more often this happened, the more incentive I had to continue my pursuit, as I could see the enjoyment it brought to folks as memories of those days came forward. The enthusiasm and encouragement continued to come my way.”
Lawrence broadened her clothesline research over the years, in person, in libraries, and by phone.
“I kept my camera with me in my car—no smart phones, remember—and as I drove, I would peek into backyards, porches, and alleys, on the lookout for laundry on clotheslines,” Lawrence described. “In one instance, I found a long sagging laundry line that stretched diagonally across a corner yard, and stopped to take a photo from the sidewalk. Suddenly a woman came rushing out of that house angrily yelling at me. Once I assured her that I was NOT from the Housing Inspector’s Office, she agreed to let me take my pictures, despite her hesitation. This event prompted me to make business cards to identify myself for such situations. That’s when I gave myself the title of ‘Clothesline Historian and Hobbyist.’ Those cards, which I’ve designed myself ‘online’(pun here), have proven extremely helpful ever since, and have had several reprintings.”
Today, Lawrence has a clothesline museum in her basement displaying much of what she has amassed over the years.
“There are literally hundreds of items of all kinds on display: pictures, posters, clothespins, lines, objets d’art—of all kinds, antique laundry pieces, clothing, books, music on CDs, films, greeting cards, old soaps boxes, reproductions of old washing paraphernalia, and more,” detailed Lawrence. “I also have dozens of books, both for children and adults, that either directly discuss the clothesline (CL), or involve the CL in the narrative of a story. In addition, I’ve put together a library of scrapbooks and binders dealing with clothesline history, clothesline equipment, outdoor drying and energy and environmental issues, the clothesline portrayed in all art forms, in literature, in personal writings, essays, poetry, in music, in advertising, in film and performance art, clothesline issues in the news, clothesline ideas for kids, laundry practices around the world, as well as my personal correspondence with folks who have shared their stories with me.”
Lawrence believes there are historical, aesthetic, scientific, ecological, sociological, cultural, feminist, humanistic, and further aspects associated with clothesline lore and culture.
In the Ann Arbor area, Lawrence has presented at retirement centers, schools, workshop centers, and many other places.
“Since that first presentation in 2011, there followed in the next eight years, 86 additional talks on this subject as well as a spin-off presentation called ‘The Clothesline in Art,’ explained Lawrence. “I spoke to many groups in senior centers, senior-living residences and retirement communities, rehabilitation centers, for whom stories of hanging laundry outdoors revived pleasant memories. Eventually, my audiences grew to include church groups, antiquing groups, a library, philanthropic clubs, university-affiliated groups, civic groups, gardening clubs, memory-loss groups, and historical preservation groups. I spoke to the Ann Arbor Newcomers group, with which I was active. I was invited to offer my class at three continuing education institutions in the area, where I returned in subsequent years for a repeat offering. I gave a talk at ‘Ladies Day’ at a County Fair, I was interviewed on a local radio program twice, called ‘Everything Elderly.’ Eventually, I offered to visit preschools, introducing the fun of hanging clothes outdoors to dry to youngsters who may have no idea of such a thing!”
Lawrence has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from her presentation.
Just a few include:
“We wish to express sincere appreciation for sharing your time and insights at our Wednesday noon lecture. We enjoyed having you, and I can say that the audience was engaged even more than usual for your presentation….You really caught their interest.”
“I absolutely loved your talk as did the rest of your audience….The talk was such a nice balance; entertaining and educational as well as cultural.”
“Thank you for an absolutely fabulous clothesline presentation today at the City Club…. Sharing your time and wonderful collection, and for triggering such lovely memories for us all.”
Lawrence also possesses a wonderful sense of humor during her presentations.
“First of all, I love using laundry-themed puns throughout my talks,” stated Lawrence. “So I start by thanking everyone for ‘hanging out with me’ at this event. I promise they will not be asked to ‘air their dirty laundry,’ to put them at ease. I say that I will ‘lay it all on the line’ for them. I also promise that I will try not to put them ‘through the wringer’ in the process, nor will I ‘leave them hanging.’ And I point out that, in case they haven’t noticed, I have a ‘dry’ sense of humor.”
Before her full-time clothesline pursuits, Lawrence worked in academia.
“Prior to retirement and this venture, for 20 years I was the Senior Department Administrator of the Department of Near Eastern & Judaic Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA,” explained Lawrence. “I have a B.A. in psychology and education from Tufts University.”
She also worked in supporting roles in educational settings, as well as in psychological research.
“My greatest satisfaction comes from sharing my love and appreciation of this simple, often overlooked piece of equipment that evokes such pleasant memories for so many folks, while at the same time reminding them that it still serves us well, even in this highly technological world,” concluded Lawrence.