Writing Another Essay

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

Wednesday, March 12, 1913:  Am trying to write my essay.

Lewis Hine's picture of child coal miners (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lewis Hine’s picture of child coal miners (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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

Hmm…  Did Grandma have to write another essay?

During much of February she was working on an essay about the Revolutionary War. Her teacher was going to give the student who wrote the best Revolutionary War essay a two and a half dollar gold piece. . . Grandma hasn’t mentioned it in the diary in quite awhile. I suppose she didn’t win the coin.

What was this essay about? . . .

I find that I want to ask myself: If I lived a hundred years ago, what would I have enjoyed writing an essay about?  I know that the lens is all wrong, but here are some topic ideas that I think would have been interesting.

  • Should child labor be banned? — Child labor was very controversial in 1913. There were many coal mines in the southeastern part of the county where Grandma lived that used a lot of child labor, so this might have made a good essay topic.
  •  The reasons why women should have the right to vote—It seems obvious today, but women’s suffrage was an arguable point in 1913.
  • The problem of adulterated foods—This was just a few years after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle—and many people were very worried about the chemicals put into processed foods.
  • Should alcohol be prohibited?  The prohibition movement was gathering steam in 1913, and taking either side of this issue would have made a good essay topic.
  • Planting trees on clear-cut land to improve the environment. People were worried about the environment in 1913. One concern was all of the erosion that was occurring due to the clear-cutting of old-time forests.

21 Responses

  1. My my how things stay the same. Can’t imagine how they thought children in dirt and dust, missing school was ok. WOW

    • It had to have been very rough for children from poor families a hundred years ago. Some things have definitely changed for the better!

      • I hope you’re right Sheryl, in our country’s anyways. The poor have fewer choices, that’s for sure. I try to be cautious about buying products from countries with poorly enforced labour laws that allow children to make products we then import for cheap.

  2. Imagine topics re preserving the environment and chemicals in foods bring subjects for contemplation in 1913. Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare essays – then and now?

    • I like your suggestion. Hmm. . . I wonder if if would be possible to find newspaper op ed articles from 1913 and 2013 on the same topic that could be compared.

  3. all good topics – many of which could still be explored

  4. I agree with Dor: it would be so interesting to compare those essays with ones today. (Do school kids still write essays???)

    • hmm.. . I think they still write essays, but maybe they call them something else now. My kids wrote lots of “papers.” I think that some of them really were essays.

  5. Your topics are great and remind me of my college history courses, especially one that was focused on that exact time period and we studied history through literature :).

  6. Am I wrong in thinking, my lovely Miss Muffly, that you’re sorely wishing you were “done” with school already?… ;-)

  7. Many topics of that era are still prevalent today. Hopefully we have learned something in a hundred years.

  8. I like where the direction you took this post as you considered possible topics for her essay. Always enjoy visiting your blog and contemplating so many years ago.

    • It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoyed the direction that this post took. I enjoy trying different writing styles and techniques.

  9. My grandfather went into the coal mines when he was very young. I am not sure if he was in his teens or not. But somewhere in that 9-12 year old range.

  10. Some of these are still hot topics today. Interesting that, in this sense, a few things haven’t changed.

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