Fort Laramie in Goshen County, Wyoming — The American West (Mountains)
The Queens of Soap Suds Row
Fort Laramie National Historic Site
With reddened knuckles and rolled up sleeves, an obscure corps served the 19th century army. Beginning in 1802, the army enlisted women aged 13 and older to wash soldiers’ laundry. Laundresses received a wage, quarters, fuel, rations, and medical care. On average, a laundress washed for about 20 men. In 1868 enlisted men paid $1 per month for laundry services, with single officers paying $3 and married officers $6. Clothing repairs and tailoring were extra. Laundresses also earned extra income working as part-time cooks, servants, and midwives for officers’ families.
Laundresses often lived and worked in an area of substandard housing known as “Soap Suds Row.” The post surgeon, commenting on one of these quarters wrote, “it has an adjoining room used as a cow pen by Sergeant Osborn . . . the effluvia escaping . . . through the partition walls is highly offensive and renders Mrs. Coyles’ room at times scarcely inhabitable.” Viewed as an expensive burden on the army by officers and members of Congress, the laundresses began to pass out of existence by the late 1870s. One army colonel explained, “All these little tribes have to be provided with shelter, cooking stoves, etc. . . . transportation of all the laundresses’ paraphernalia, children, dogs, beds, cribs, tables, tubs, buckets, boards and Lord
The Army Laundresses
Usually immigrants and commonly Irish, laundresses often married enlisted men and were a popular distraction, as evidenced by an order issued here, “ . . . any noncommissioned officer, private soldier or citizen found loitering around the Laundress Quarters of this Post will be immediately arrested . . . ”
Raucous, bawdy, and colorful, these women frequently kept the officer of the day busy reprimanding them for activities ranging from brawling and drinking to spousal abuse.
Rough in manner but kind at heart was how most frontier army veterans remember the laundresses. General Forsyth described them as “good, honest, industrious wives, usually well on in years, minutely familiar with their rights, which they dared to maintain with acrimonious volubility.”
Erected by National Park Service.
Location. 42° 12.127′ N, 104° 33.386′ W. Marker is in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in Goshen County. Marker can be reached from State Highway 160, on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is located at Fort Laramie National Historic Site. Marker is in this post office area: Fort Laramie WY 82212, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least Site of Army Bridge (a few steps from this marker); General Sink (Latrine) (within shouting distance of this marker); Guardhouse (within shouting distance of this marker); The “New” Guardhouse and Adjacent Barracks (within shouting distance of this marker); Parade Ground (within shouting distance of this marker); Embassy on the Northern Plains (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Military Justice: Punishment Harsh and Certain (about 300 feet away); Crossroads of a Nation Moving West (about 300 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Fort Laramie.
More about this marker. An 1862 photograph at the top of the marker depicts the “Camp of the 31st Pennsylvania Infantry near Washington, D.C.” Laundresses can be seen in the photo.
At the bottom left of the marker is an 1883 photo of “The Married Enlisted Men’s Quarters ‘Soap Suds Row’ along the Laramie River.”
Also see . . . Fort Laramie National Historic Site. (Submitted on August 10, 2015, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.)
Categories. • Forts, Castles • Industry & Commerce • Women •
Credits. This page was last revised on April 20, 2018. This page originally submitted on August 10, 2015, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey. This page has been viewed 221 times since then and 25 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on August 10, 2015, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.