September 25, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

 In the early Gotham years of the 1900s, and into that century until about the time of the great post-war escape to the country, a Sunday gathering of women on tenement rooftops to hang washing was more than ritual. It was social. It was cathartic.
     There are "Ash Can School" paintings of this, the wash whitened by bleach and red-hand scrubbing in sinks used for cooking, too, or in shared hallway baths. 
     Women, hard-worked day-in, day-out, gathered in sympathy and short weekly escape on the rooftops, breezes from the East River, the Hudson or the Battery drying not only wash but long hair let loose like the women's emotions. 
     There was understanding among them on these Sundays for a time apart from husbands, children and dark, sometimes windowless rooms. The rhythm of the week, dreary enough, was broken in common with other women.
     Conversations had, secrets shared, words only spoken in this Sunday society.  Laughter at absurdity.
     It was city life in a moment of time, an encounter group of sorts, reaffirmation of sisterhood.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.