Page from Latin Textbook Used a Hundred Years Ago

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, September 6, 1912:  We had a test in three of our studies today. Didn’t make a very good mark in Caesar, but because I omitted to look up some rules, so you see whence I got to today, I was at a loss what to write.

page from Latin text book

Source: An Elementary Latin Course (1909). Click on page to enlarge.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Latin sounds hard. Apparently the class was reading Caesar–probably Caesar’s Gallic War.

The introduction to a Latin text published in 1909 describes how the students first study grammar to prepare to read Caesar.

The lessons have been made fairly comprehensive, in order to afford an adequate preparation for reading Caesar.

The vocabulary of the seventy-eight lessons includes about six hundred words exclusive of proper names. Caesar uses about ninety-four percent of these words of these words and Cicero ninety-six percent.

An Elementary Latin Course by Franklin Hazen Potter

18 Responses

  1. This reminds me of high school. I took three years of Latin. We actually had readers that had vocabulary, grammar, and text we had to translate. In the first year there were great little stories set in Pompeii. The second year they were in Roman Britain. The Third and Fourth year were translations from either Cicero or Ovid. In my third year we did Ovid, translating the story of Cupid and Psyche. We had a lot of fun in Latin class, having food and participating in the Latin Convention, at which we had to dress in togas. We also did projects, and one year a student built a real working chariot. Today, I still remember some of my Latin, though I can speak only a little. But, as the Latin saying goes Vir sapit qui pauca loquitur (It is a wise man who speaks little).

    The following link is to a recent edition to the first year Latin text I used, which appears to be a lot easier than what your Grandmother had to use: http://www.scribd.com/doc/76181661/Cambridge-Latin-Course-1

    • Latin sounds like a fun class. It wasn’t an option at the high school I attended, but it sounds like I missed something that I might have enjoyed.

  2. both happy and sad I did not get to take Latin — they stopped offering it when I was in high school

  3. Sounds like a number of your readers studied latin in High School too…that’s so interesting. I don’t remember it being offered in our schools. Looks like it would have been a great challenge. Of course there were no TV’s, so people read the classics, makes sense that this was being taught.

  4. Hi. I took Latin in High School. I can still hear the teacher at the front of the class declining those verbs! Jane

  5. I always regret that my Latin class was always in such chaos… I wanted to learn it and worked hard at it… I passed the subject but always felt deprived of the riches that could have been mined during that time. I don’t think they teach it any more in this area. It’s a shame because it is such a door into human history and our own culture’s roots.

    • No matter what the subject is, it’s always a shame when a teacher has so many problems with behavior management that students aren’t able to learn.

  6. I’m just so amazed that Miss Muffly, in 1912, was able to go to High School, study Latin etc. My Ancestors, both in Australia and England at that time, did not have the same educational opportunities.
    Even a generation later here in South Australia, my mum had to leave school at Year 7 despite attaining the Qualifying Certificate for entering High School, because the family needed her wages.
    Thanks so much Sheryl for sharing your Grandmother’s diary and opening my eyes to a whole different way of life, for others, way back then :-)

    • It’s interesting how the educational system varied so much from place to place. Since my grandmother graduated from high school, I think that she probably did have more education than was typical for a woman a hundred years ago.

      The rural area that she lived in seems pretty average to me. At that time I think that the small high school she attended was a classical high school, and that it was considered a little old-fashioned compared to the larger consolidated high schools in some nearby towns which had “tracks” where students could prepare for various types of careers.

  7. I never wanted to take Latin. I studied Spanish in highschool and a little in college. I also studied French and Arabic for a year and had a bit of study of Norweigan on a trip to Norway when I was 35. I can understand written and some spoken Spanish but because I never had a class where we really spoke it and never have been around Spanish speaker in the real world, I would be embarrassed to try and speak it.

    • I’m impressed by how many languages you learned. I only ever had two years of Spanish–and only took that because I had to. When I was a teen in rural Pennsylvania, I didn’t think that languages were a very practical subject–now I realize how small my world was at the time.

      • Some of them I can only remember a few words at this point. I had planed to go to Mexico one summer when I was in college to study Spanish, I was enrolled in a program and everything but my mother really didn’t want me to go and talked me out of it. I should have gone.

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