How Were Courses Scheduled A Hundred Years Ago?

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

Tuesday, October 22, 1912:  Came to the conclusion that I didn’t know very much in Geometry. We had an exam in it this morning.

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

I can’t figure out how the classes were scheduled a hundred years ago. Based on the diary entries, it seems like courses started and ended at random intervals. Courses apparently didn’t last for the entire year, or a full semester or quarter.

School started on August 26, 1912. On September 24, 1912, Grandma wrote:

. . . Had an exam in Geometry. Took up Arithmetic today.  Didn’t have to but I chose to do so.

In September I thought that it seemed odd that geometry apparently was finished, and that it was being replaced by arithmetic.

But now this diary entry makes me think that perhaps geometry never ended—and that arithmetic was just somehow an extra class.

Achievement Tests a Hundred Years Ago

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

Thursday, October 10, 1912:  The whole school was examined today in order to find out our deficiencies. I know what mine is.

Recent photo of building that once housed the McEwensville School.

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

We hear so much today about state tests being used for accountability purposes. I’ve always thought that the use of tests to see how students were doing was a relatively new phenomenon—but apparently the use of standardized large-scale assessments has been around for at least a hundred years. What as the test that Grandma took like? . . . and what were her “deficiencies”?

This is the second time in the diary that Grandma has suggested that schools were somehow evaluated for quality. The previous year, on September 29, 1911, she wrote:

Teacher has rearranged our classes, and now we’ll have the program every now and then to see where our class comes.

History Test Questions a Hundred Years Ago

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

Thursday, September 19, 1912:  We had a test in General History today. Wasn’t hard at all.

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

I’m glad that the General History test wasn’t difficult for Grandma.

A hundred-year-old book called the Outlines of General History by V. A. Renouf contained information about how to develop good questions:

Different Kinds of Questions

The questions which are most frequently asked in exercises and examinations can be classed somewhat as follows:

 Questions of Fact

  • Personality: Who did a certain thing?
  • Place: Where did a certain event happen? What places were affected by a certain cause or event?
  • Time: When did a certain event happen? How long did a certain period last?

Example Questions

  1. Who built Memphis?
  2. Name all of the countries conquered by Alexander the Great.
  3. What year did Nineveh fall?

Questions of Comparison

  • Comparison with recent or contemporary events or conditions in one’s own country.
  • Comparison with events or periods in the history previously learned.
  • Comparison of historical personalities.

Example Questions

  1. Does a man’s education stop when he has left school? What opportunities did the Athenians have for continuing their education through manhood?
  2. Compare the condition of debtors in early Rome with that of early Athens?
  3. Compare the government of Shih Hwang-ti with that of Darius?

Questions of Cause or Effect

  • Geographical causes
  • Causes lying in certain institutions
  • Effects of certain events

Example Questions

  1. In what way did the natural formation of Greece encourage commerce?
  2. What were the causes of the Peloponnesian war?
  3. Why is the battle of Marathon counted among the decisive battles of the world?

Which types of questions did Grandma’s teacher include in the exam?

It’s been awhile–Where have the years gone?– since I’ve taken a history exam, but I think that many of the types of questions asked on a history test today would still fit into this categorization schema.

But, I bet that there are fewer questions today that ask about dates. It  seems like students were asked to memorize more things back then than they are now.

Class Colors

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

Friday, September 13, 1912:  Found a pocket knife on the way to school this morning. Wonder who lost it?

We chose our class colors this week. Think it was last Wed. They are maroon and gold. They don’t suit me very well. I preferred to have green and white, but didn’t get them.

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

It’s too bad that Grandma wasn’t able to convince her classmates that green and white would be better class colors. . .though two schools that I attended had maroon and gold (or orange) as their school colors so I have somewhat of a personal affinity for the maroon and gold.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think that we had class colors—just school colors. Does anyplace still have class colors?

Important to Memorize Latin Vocabulary–Though Difficult to Dig Into Studies

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

Tuesday, September 10, 1912:  Such a time as I have been having a digging at my studies.

Roman temple

Picture of Roman Temple in An Elementary Latin Course (1909)

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

Which subjects was Grandma having difficulty digging into?  Latin is the only subject that she’s mentioned since school began in late August.

Maybe she needed to memorize some Latin vocabulary words.

A Latin textbook from the early 20th century gave teachers the following pedagogical advice:

Have the material in each lesson taken up and learned in the order in which it comes. The vocabularies are so short that the pupil can be required to learn them before attempting to translate the sentences.

In assigning the lesson, pronounce the new words to the class before they have seen them, having each word pronounced in turn by some pupil; give the meaning and call for English cognates if there are any. Then have the pupils read the words and commit them to memory. They will have a better command of words learned in this way than when they are learned merely as they are met in the sentences. Drill the class constantly on vocabularies past and present.

An Elementary Latin Course (1909) by Franklin Hazen Potter

(An aside—I don’t think any textbooks today would direct teachers to “drill” the students. I guess that pedagogical methods have changed over the years.)

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

What Courses Did High School Students Take a Hundred Years Ago?

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

Tuesday, August 27, 1912:  Brought home my Latin Grammar, all the time thinking I had my Caesar. Didn’t want the former at all. Must study some now, so I’ll soon be in the midst of my studies this evening.

Guess I will like Mr. Teacher.

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

Hmm. . . This is the first time that Grandma’s mentioned Latin during the year and a half that I’ve been posting her diary entries. . . . though she apparently had taken some Latin in previous years because she used the Latin term puella bona (good girl) in a diary entry that I posted a few days ago.

I was amazed to discover that a hundred years ago, most females who went high school learned Latin. According to the August, 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal, here’s what females were studying in high school:

Latin, French, or German:  82 out of every hundred

Algebra and Geometry:  87 out of every hundred

English Literature:  57 out of every hundred

Rhetoric:  57 out of every hundred

History: 55 out of every hundred

Domestic Economy (sewing, cooking, and household economics): 3 out of every hundred

The article was making the point that few females took domestic economy classes—and that maybe more should.


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