Young Cornish widow Bessie
after two months in a faraway
land grieved for her husband
struggled with her five children.

New settlers around her pitied
her plight, bought her a mangle
to take in laundry, found her
charwoman’s work scrubbing
rich people’s floors and stairs.

Baptists took  her to heart,
became her family, held her
close in her grief. Each day
her tiny frame lifted wet
laundry from copper through
mangle to rinse tub through
mangle then hung it to
dry in her tiny back yard.

For the rest of each day she
scrubbed floors and doorsteps
while her children attended
school as demanded by law.
to family back home.

Young Tom ran wild, was sent to
reformatory, later taught to farm.
Bessie swallowed her grief, put
her daughters into tailoress
apprenticeships when they
left school at twelve.

They were as small as their
mother but were spared her
burden of laundry and charing.


6 thoughts on “Charwoman

    1. Thank you. “Bessie” was just one of many women who had a very hard life in the 19th century. I think she was so amazing to support her three daughters while they earned a pittance as apprentices in an occupation they could keep up into their old age.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This poem echoes the plight and the determination of many mothers: to do the best they can to help their children have a better life if only slightly. Just recently a lovely Mexican mother who is supporting two children by cleaning the homes of working women in my small town told me she is willing to clean other people’s toilets so her daughters will go to school and never have to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

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