Davidson student leaves the laundry with clean clothes
[January 1984 ]


By the early 21st century, the Davidson College offered a full service laundry facility, a free self-service laundromat, and two smaller free self-service laundromats located in the senior apartments. Students are charged a mandatory fee bundled with their room. However, this system has been a long time in development.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, students would have their laundry cleaned by local African-American laundresses. They would aso hire men to carry the laundry to and from the cleaners. At the beginning of the 20th century there were over forty laundresses working in Davidson.

The Davidson College full service laundry facility opened in 1920. The administration proposed the idea in 1911, but funds were not available. The 1919-1920 catalogue reads: “A laundry sufficient to do all unstarched work for the students has been authorized and will be in operation at the opening of next fall. For hygienic and other reasons all students will be required to patronize this laundry. The charge will be as low as will allow for the proper conduct and care of this plant.” Students were charged $2 a month.

By 1962, the laundry was overwhelmed by the growing student body. In one week, they “processed 1,254 bundles, with storage space for only 400.”[President Martin] As of 1970, the laundry serviced approximately 1,000 students and 500 faculty / townspeople. In response to this demand, the laundry grew and invested in new technology.

When the first female students arrived in 1972, it was decided that “the laundry as it stands now is not equipped to launder women’s apparel satisfactorily.” Therefore, female were not required to use the laundry service (except for linens) and were not charged the laundry fee. This would become a bone of contention for male students but laid the ground work for the service being optional for men as well. Making the service optional for women required the College to install the first coin-operated washers and dryers in the dorms. [Recommendations of the Special Sub-Committee on Coeducation]

The laundry fee became required for all male and female unmarried students in 1974, but the dormitory washers and dryers were still coin operated. The female students in particular protested this; they argued that at least the self-service machines should be free. In 1980, the coin operated self-service facilities became free. By that time the laundry also began to provide bed linens.

A member of the Davidson laundry staff hard at work

In 1981 a group of students protested the laundry system, claiming that students should have the option of doing their own laundry for cheaper than paying the laundry fee. At that time a new laundromat had opened in Davidson with competitive pricing. The administration considered options for releasing students from the mandatory laundry fee, but ultimately it was not feasible to mantain the Davidson laundry without full student participation. Despite cheaper local alternatives, if the Davidson laundry were to close, local laundromats would not be able to support the entire college community: in 1981 the college laundry was handling 13-14 thousand pounds of laundry a week.

By the 21st century, students still picked up their laundry in brown-paper packages, but the packages were identified by laundry numbers rather then receipts. “The system works efficiently in large part because of the Honor Code, which allows a self-service approach to laundry operations. Student’s don’t receive a receipt when they drop off clothes, and they pick-up their own wrapped bundles and dry cleaning.” [Davidson Journal Spring 2003]

The laundry building was renamed “The Lula Bell Houston Laundry” in April 2004. Lula Bell Houston worked at the laundry since 1948 and served “all but 1,226 of the college’s 19,731 living alumni.” [Bill Giduz]

In the summer of 2007 Davidson College consolidated almost all the free self-service washers and dryers that were scattered across campus into one self-service laundromat (small self service laundromats remained in the senior apartments). This new Wildcat Laundry facility (located next to the full-service laundry) included wireless internet, three computer stations, vending machines, and a lounge area with a TV. The machines are hooked up to LaundryView, an online service that provide up-to-the-minute notice what machines are in use.

Long gone are the days when the administration first founded the laundry for “hygienic and other reasons;” the college laundry is now a source of pride and convenience for Davidson College students.

Laundry – Works Cited

Davidson College Catalog, 1919-1920. Davidson: Davidson College Office of Communications. [1919].

Giduz, Bill. “Campus Honors Retirement of ‘Spirit of Davidson’ in Laundry’s New Name.” Buildings at Davidson College – Laundry Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Laundry.” RG 2/1.14. President Martin (David Grier) – Records, 1950-1968. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Laundry/dry cleaning.” RG 2/1.15. President. Spencer – Records, 1968-1983. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Letters, 1918 and undated” DC0166s. Carson, William Waller, 1845-. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Mann, Jeffrey. “Laundry Petition.” Davidsonian. 6 November 1981.

Northcott, Nancy. “Displeased Co-ed Petition Spencer on Laundry Issue.” Davidsonian. 20 Sept 1924.

Recommendations of the Special Sub-Committee on Coeducation. Buildings at Davidson College – Laundry Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Senate Discussion-Laundry Services, 1970.” RG 6/14.4. Student Government Association (SGA) – Records, 1927-. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Senate Discussion-Laundry Services, 1974.” RG 6/14.4. Student Government Association (SGA) – Records, 1927-. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Swansbrough, Jim. “The Davidson Laundry.” Davidson Journal. Spring 2003.

“The Crier.” 3 September 2007. Buildings at Davidson College – Laundry Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Author: Tammy Ivins
Date: February 2009

Cite as: Ivins, Tammy. “Laundry” Davidson College. 9 February 2009 <>

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