Sister’s 21st Birthday Party

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

Wednesday, January 22, 1913: We had a surprise party tonight. Had quite a good time. It was a surprise for Ruth, and she didn’t know the least of it.

Ruth.Muffly.circa.1912

Ruth Muffly

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

It probably was a birthday party for Grandma’s sister Ruth. I bet it was a really big surprise since Ruth  turned 21 three days earlier on January 19.

What was a 21st birthday party like a hundred years ago?

Did Grandma pull Ruth’s ears 21 times on her birthday? People used to pull the birthday person’s ear lobes one time for each year. On January 19, 1911 Grandma wrote:

Pulled Miss Muffly’s ears first thing this morning, whether she liked it or not. . .

And, on January 19, 1912, she wrote:

. . . I pulled Ruthie’s ears. I tell her she is getting to be an old maid but really don’t mean it. . . .

14 Responses

  1. Sisterly love….it’s fun to see how they interacted together. If my sons pulled their sister’s ears, they may get kick in the shins!

  2. I’ve never heard of pulling someone’s ears for their birthday! (I’ve always heard of “spanking” them!)
    The party probably was a surprise for Ruth, since her birthday had been three days before..

  3. That’s a new one to me too – pulling someone’s ears! Spanking, yes. So interesting.

    • I think pulling someone’s ears on their birthday may have been an old Pennsylvania Dutch custom. I can remember being told not to do it when I was a child–though I don’t think that I ever would have thought to do it, if it hadn’t been forbidden.

  4. 21 usually is the biggie in most places, although 18 is the big one in Alberta, 19 in some other provinces. I remember getting the bumps. I’d like to see someone try that now…LOL, there’d be a lot more groaning :D

    • Today in the US, 21 seems to be the biggie because of the drinking age. I don’t think that there were similar laws a hundred years ago. I wonder if any particular age was considered the “biggie” back then.

  5. Never heard of pulling someone’s ears, my dad would pinch us, a pinch to grow an inch…he must have loved pinching because I am 5ft 7 1/2 inches!! ha ha

    • You’re from an area very near where I grew up. It’s interesting how different communities and families apparently had different traditions.

      • But I was not raised here, I was raised in the army and moved around quite a bit. (dad was from the south and mom from Germany) After dad retired we moved here and then moved around again after hubby re-enlisted, so I have many sayings from all over the country!! :D

  6. Spanking and/or ear pulling seems weird to me! I’ve only heard of it from here so don’t think it’s an Aussie custom. Just think how much fuss would go into a 21st party a few decades later.

  7. Yep, never heard of that ear pulling either. I am from the West Coast though.

  8. A party! How fun! Wonder if they played any games and what kind of cake did Ruth like? Chocolate sounds good. I think I’ll pass on the ear pulling or spanking. :)

  9. better than a spanking and a pinch to grow an inch!

  10. I never heard of the ear pulling but we did do a pinch to grow an inch in Detroit.

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