Made a Call

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

Sunday, December 7, 1913:  Went to Sunday School this morning. It proved to be rather rainy. Made a call this afternoon. Ruth and I were going to church this evening, but it started to rain.

Telephone

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

What does “made a call” mean? Did Grandma mean that she visited a friend? . . . .or did she mean that she made a telephone call?

Telephones were unusual enough a hundred years ago that a phone call may have merited a mention in the diary.

In the 1910s telephone lines were being strung from poles in the general area,  but I’m uncertain whether Grandma’s family had a phone. Some families who lived in town or along the main road between Watsontown and McEwensville definitely had one.

Back in 1911, Grandma wrote:

. . .This afternoon I went over to Stout’s. My first experience in telephoning. The voice at the other end of the wire sounded rather squeaky. I telephoned to Besse.

May 8, 1911

(Stout’s lived near the Muffly’s on a farm along the main road. Besse was Grandma’s married sister, and she also lived on the main road.)

33 Responses

  1. Hard to imagine phones were a new thing just 100 years ago. Now you’d almost have to pry them out of people’s cold dead hands

  2. Imagine the excitement of making a telephone call in those early days.

  3. Strangely, there was a similar looking phone in 🎄my first place of employment .. It was rather old fashioned by all standards. The date I started my working career 1964. Didn’t say the instrument worked though!🎄

    • Whew, the place you worked must have been really old-fashioned. I was a kid back then, and I think that in the area where I lived most phones were the black ones with the dials. People who were really trendy had brightly colored “Princess” phones.

  4. I found it interesting when I was researching my Aunt Hallie’s murder and by reading the census report for the year 1920 I found her grandfather (very wealthy man did not have a radio) but all three of his sons did. I’ll have to go back and check on the status of telephones. I don’t remember mention of it yet it seems there was a phone at the home where Hallie’s death was announced from.
    Our world has certainly changed a lot in 100 years.

    • It’s really interesting that the 1920 Census asked a question about radios. I wonder why radios were considered important enough to merit a question.

  5. My ex husband and I had an antique phone like that one (didn’t work, but it looked pretty!).

  6. I think “made a call” for grandma still meant paid a visit at this time. If she had “telephoned” that’s the word she likely would have used. I wonder when my grandparents first used a telephone?

  7. A phone at a farm in those days would seem a huge luxury. I remember my working class grandparents getting their first phone in the 1960’s. Until then they used the phone box on the street. I guess every country was different.

  8. We had a phone just like that when I was a kid. Our ring was long-short-long to distinguish it from other phones on our party line. Sometimes you had to ask other people to get off the line who were listening in. Then you’d hear click click as they hung up. You didn’t use the phone during lightning storms.

    • We had a phone with a dial when I was a child–but we did have a party line. I think that the other people on your party line were more courteous than some people on our line. They wouldn’t always hang up even after it was clear that others knew they were listening in.

      We also didn’t use the phone during lightning storns. I always heard that if the phone lines were hit with lightning that balls of fire could travel through the lines and come out of the phone. I don’t know whether or not it was true.

  9. I love old telephones. It’s amazing how they have transitioned over the years. My mom, who is 95, told me that when she was a teenager (late 1920s or early 30s), she would go to her aunt’s house and call boys. She would pick up the phone and the operator would say “Number please.” The phone probably looked like the one on your blog.

  10. We had a phone like that in the late, late 50’s on our homestead in Alaska. I think my dad had hooked it up to specifically call only one other person who lived down the road a bit. Why that – I don’t know – but I do remember it hanging on the wall.

    • Wow, it sounds like you grew up in a really remote area. I bet you have some really interesting stories about your childhood.

      • I think they are and one day I will put them all together with the letters my mother wrote to relatives at the time. I was four when we went there and had just turned 9 when we returned to Louisiana. It’s funny what we remember from our youth.

  11. How interesting, I wonder what they thought about telephones back then, I’m sure the voice quality wasn’t the best, but it must have been exciting to try to telephone.

  12. I think we’ve gone from the telephone being a nuance to the other extreme – even little kids have one now. I know this may sound strange, but sometimes I just long for simpler times. It’s great having a cell phone when you’re stranded out in the snow and need help; but at the same time, it seems some people are so captivated by their phones, they don’t even give their attention to the person in front of them, or while they are driving. (Didn’t mean to vent, haha, just thinking out loud).

    • I agree. I find it really annoying when someone’s trying to talk to me, while being totally focused on whatever is happening on their phone.

  13. We had a family of Stouts near us in north-central WV, not that far from where your grandmother grew up. Makes one wonder…

    • I don’t know how many children the Stout family that lived near Grandma had (or where some of those children may have ended up)–but I do know their daughter Carrie (who Grandma occasionally mentioned in the diary) married someone in the McEwensville area and lived nearby her entire life.

  14. Wow, this is a fascinating time document!

  15. I think she made a visit to someone from the church – maybe someone needy. Sundays were the expected times to go “calling.”

  16. I think she went visiting someone from the church..since it was Sunday and she made a call:) Just a guess:)

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