Woman standing next to an industrial washing machine; Historic cannery washing machine on display, mural of setnetters on the beach and a map of setnets sites.

Left: Laundry supervisor, Shirley Zimin, in ca. 1990s. Zimin Family private collection. Right: Gallery view – photograph by Brian Wallace.

THE LAUNDRY: Industrial Domestication

"The Laundry provided an important cannery service, crucial for morale."

— Brad Angasan,  NN Cannery Spring-Fall Crew

The Laundry represented one of the few cannery spaces organized and managed by women—specifically, local Alaska Native women.

In the spring, the so-called Laundry Ladies were part of the spring-fall crew that opened the cannery buildings and prepared the bunkhouses and other living spaces for the arrival of the seasonal workers.

Seasonal Chores

During the summer, the laundry staff conducted necessary chores that busy cannery workers—machinists, supervisors, and the superintendent—lacked time to do themselves. The women made beds, cleaned, and stocked bathrooms. They washed, dried, and folded loads and loads of dirty clothes. They also took in dirty clothes from commercial fishermen and local residents, providing an essential service to the community.

At the end of the season, the Laundry Ladies washed, hung, and stored hundreds of sheets and wool blankets, readying them for the next season.

Social Epicenter

The Laundry was another place where cannery people came together to chat, gripe about work, share stories of homesickness, or hear the latest rumor. By caring for the cannery, the Laundry Ladies provided comfort and created a sense of home for the multitudes of cannery workers.

Working Moms

Although laborious, laundry work afforded local women the opportunity to care for their children.

“The Superintendent allowed me to live in the Laundry because my husband was working,” recalled Shirley Zimin, who ran the Laundry for seventeen years. “It was easier to stay in there with the girls. My kids, they grew up in the Laundry.”

Trefon Angasan’s mother Vera also worked in the Laundry. “She would bring my brother, Ralph, and I down there from the village,” recalled Trefon. “Mom would make sure that she gave us baths, for one thing. She put us in the washing machine! We’d sit there until we got clean.”

When older, Trefon recalled helping his mother with her work. “She would have us lug these Army blankets out to hang on the clotheslines -- and then the sheets --We had to do all those things when we were seven, eight years old.”

On Display

Washing Machine
ASM 94-5-1. Likely dates between 1924 (invention of the Maytag “gyratator” or agitator) and 1926. Files indicate it was heavily restored by the donor/collector, but also that he got it in 1969 from Taku Harbor cannery (Libby, McNeill & Libby) with permission of Tiger Olson who lived there. The file also indicated it was once powered by a gas engine. The earliest gas powered washing machine is by Maytag in 1914.

Copper wash tub from Pennock Island, near Ketchikan
ASM 2015-1-20.