The Singing Washerwomen of Tuscia

Gathering together at the village wash area to scrub the family laundry was often a social highlight of the day for women of the small villages in Italy. Chattering animated the scrubbing, but so did song.

In 2013, Simonetta Chiaretti, born in Bolsena in the Tuscia area of central Italy in the province of Viterbo, Latium, united a group of 30 multi-generational women to form La Compagnia delle Le Lavandaie della Tuscia or the Washerwomen Group of Tuscia. Her desire was “to recuperate this tradition, giving dignity to this work committed to one’s family…the true emancipation of the woman!” Prior to 2013, the older lavandaie of Bolsena still scrubbed their laundry together at one of the two outdoor lavatoi comunali (city washhouses), though the tradition of uniting in song while scrubbing lived on only in memories. Signora Chiaretti, soprano and “mamma” of the group, has resurrected the singing washerwomen, having spent years researching past lavandaia melodies and interviewing the elderly washerwomen. The group’s repertoire also includes songs written by Simonetta and inspired by Tuscia’s canti popolari.

The group now performs in central Italy and some of its older women still scrub the family laundry as lavandaie, whereas middle-aged women (with washing machines at home) have joined the group in tribute to the fond memories of scrubbing and singing aunts, mothers and grandmothers. The littlest lavandaie enjoy the music, the social interaction with all ages and bringing the history of their village to life.