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In the '70s and '80s, a quirky woman in a small Oregon town built a machine designed to free women from the drudgery of that tedious, all-consuming, yet unpaid labor: housework.
Frances Gabe died in January at the age of 101, leaving behind an automated, self-cleaning home that comprised more than 68 patented inventions. The New York Times recently remembered her in an obituary that lovingly details her achievements, eccentricities, and motivations.
The confinement of middle-class white women to the domestic sphere was fuel for the American movement now known as second-wave feminism—and for Gabe, it was at least in part a design problem. "You can talk all you like about women's liberation, but houses are still designed so women have to spend half their time on their knees or hanging their head in a hole," Gabe once said.
In each room, Ms. Gabe, tucked safely under an umbrella, could press a button that activated a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first spray sent a mist of sudsy water over walls and floor. A second spray rinsed everything. Jets of warm air blew it all dry. The full cycle took less than an hour.
Runoff escaped through drains in Ms. Gabe’s almost imperceptibly sloping floors. It was channeled outside and straight through her doghouse, where the dog was washed in the bargain. …
Her sink, toilet and bathtub were also self-cleaning.