Received a $2 Bill

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

Saturday, April 19, 1913:  Did quite a lot today. Am a little tired. Ma gave me a two dollar bill.

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

$2 bills from the late 1800s (I couldn't find any pictures for bills from the early 1900s.) (Source: Wikipedia)

$2 bills from the late 1800s (I couldn’t find any pictures of bills from the early 1900s.) (Source: Wikipedia)

The $2 bill was the third graduation gift Grandma received. The previous day she received a gold hat pin and a handkerchief. 

This diary entry raises more questions than answers for me.

Today we seldom see $2 bills—and they often seem special when we get one. Were they also unusual a hundred years ago—or were they readily available?

Why did Grandma say the gift was from her mother instead of from her parents? Why is her father so seldom mentioned in the diary? He was a farmer—and it seems like he should have been mentioned more often than he was.

Were Grandpa and Grandma Both at the Class Supper?

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

Friday, April 17, 1913:  Our class was invited out to supper this evening. It broke up rather early. My first presents arrived today. A gold hat pin and a handkerchief.

Lillie. Raymond (standing), and Michael Swartz (1913)

Lillie. Raymond (standing), and Michael Swartz (1913)

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

Grandpa must have been at the supper—but Grandma doesn’t mention him and it sounds like the dinner was boring since the party broke up rather early.

According to the Commencement Program there were only six people who graduated from McEwensville High School in 1913, and two of them were my grandparents–Helena Muffly and Raymond Swartz.


 In such a tiny class they had to have known each other—yet Grandma never mentioned him in the diary. Why?

Raymond was much younger than Grandma—perhaps he wasn’t on her radar screen at the time.  He was only 14 1/2 years old when he graduated; she was 18. He must have skipped several grades.

Maybe Raymond was really quiet and Grandma barely noticed him. His mother had died several years previously. He lived on a farm with his father. He only had one sibling—a sister, Lillie, who was 12 years older than him.

Or maybe he was smart and annoying. . . .

One place in the diary where I want to think that Grandma referred her future husband was on February 6, 1911:

. . . Got too close to the stove pipe at school today and burned my hand. Didn’t feel very good. Put some black on a kid’s face, and then he put some on mine. I tried to prevent him. Got my arm scratched and tore my waist.  . .

It  almost  seems like the two students were trying to get each others attention, and that maybe they  liked each other just a little. Grandpa would have seemed like a kid at the time. . .could it have been him?

I’m probably imagining things. . .

The Problem with Tests and Exams a Hundred Years Ago

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

Tuesday, April 15, 1913:  Tomorrow witnesses the beginnings of our final examinations. I do hope that I’ll pass.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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

Hang in there Grandma—you’re almost there. Your graduation invitations have been mailed. You’ll navigate your way through this final hurdle.

The way students are tested today is controversial. I was amazed to discover that people also had concerns about exams a hundred years ago.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the October 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal called “The Black Beast in Every Child’s School Life”:

No evil in the present American public-school system is, to my mind so great and so manifestly unjust to the pupil as what may very aptly be called “the black beast of every child’s school life”: examinations, as they for the most part now are conducted. .

Examinations, as they are now almost universally conducted in our schools, are a memory extortion pure and simple. An examination is supposed to be a final twist which will forever fix in the memory as a whole the items that have been put into it one at a time.

Why should we longer put our children to these terrible strains as we do now? I have tried to think out a good reason and I am unable to do so.

The dictionary is always at hand when the pupil is studying his lesson, and so can be referred to at will. Besides this the grammar is always accessible, to explain new an unusual forms and phrases that appear in it.

But when examination day s comes every one of these rightful and useful helps in his work is taken away from him, and arm’s length of memory alone if he is asked to translate, give forms of words and account for constructions, without any assistance from the tools that he ordinarily has been permitted to use.

Memory-test examinations must be abolished. Time was when the word “scholar” meant a wailing dictionary. There are too many words now, and knowledge has too vast a reach, to be compressed into any one single head. Besides, what’s the use? Dictionaries are cheap. The missions can have cyclopedias now; and things are so much easier to get at, so much more reliable withal so much more liable to keep in any climate when preserved for ruse in this way.

Which Meal is Dinner?

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

Sunday, April 13, 1913:  Went to Sunday School this morning. Took dinner with Carrie.


Source: Ladies Home Journal (July, 1911)

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

Which meal did Grandma eat with her friend, Carrie Stout?

I’m almost sure that it was the noon meal—but today it seems like most people are refer to the evening meal as dinner.

When I was a child growing up we always called the mid-day meal dinner. But, I’m never sure if other people understand what I mean when I say dinner–so my family eats breakfast, lunch and supper.

What do you call the meals?

Care of the Ice Chest (Ice Box)

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

Saturday, April 12, 1913:  Did some house-cleaning this morning.

Ice Box

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

Maybe Grandma cleaned the ice box.

Here are  the directions in a 1913 book for cleaning the ice box:

Care of the Ice-Chest (Ice Box)

Once a week wash the walls, sides, shelves, and every corner with cold water, borax, and any sweet pure soap, rinse with clear water and wipe dry. The shelves may be taken out and scalded, but must be chilled and wiped dry before they are returned. If anything is spilled, wipe it up at once, and be sure each day that there is no refuse bits of food or berries lying about.

A good scalding is not necessary very often if the chest is kept clean.

It is best to keep everything covered; it is imperative that milk and butter should always be covered, and, if possible, kept in a separate apartment.

Do not keep food too long, to spoil and sour, and thus scent up the ice-box.

A neglected ice-chest is a menace to the life and health of the whole family. A well-ordered household should always mean a sanitary refrigerator. Keep the box full of ice, as refrigeration checks the germs.

One should be as particular in caring for an ice-chest during the winter months as in the summer-time. Keep a saucer of powdered charcoal standing in the ice-box. It will absorb all odors and keep the air pure. When opening a refrigerator that has been closed for a long time, burn for an hour a small-sized sulphur candle, then cleanse thoroughly with warm soapy water and dry perfectly, exposing to air and sun if possible. It is most important to keep the ice-chest wholesome and sweet.

Remember that ice is apt to be dirty, and it is wise to watch the receptacle for the ice, that there be no leaves or anything collected there to decay or to clog the pipe. This pipe or the pan beneath should never be allowed to get slimy, as slime is a danger signal.

It is also important that the door be kept closed; otherwise the temperature will rise and the ice will melt rapidly.

Housekeeper’s Handy Book (1913) by Lucia Millet Baxter

Still Struggling with Behavior

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

Friday, April 11, 1913:  I got a regular call down at school today. Made me rather mad to think I did such a thing as to deserve such a raking. Am busy making out an outline.

The old slate chalkboard now sits on the floor.

This is a recent view of the second floor of the building that once housed the  McEwesnville School.  A hundred years ago today, Grandma probably looked in anger out this window and wished she was not sitting in this classroom–

Recent photo of building that once housed McEwensville High School.

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

Good grief—What did Grandma do now?

Behavior (or to use the old-fashioned term—deportment) still seemed to be an issue. Grandma was having a difficult last few weeks of school.  She wrote several diary entries about her struggles with behavior, but provided few clues to exactly what she did.

Here’s a recap of Grandma’s diary entries over the past 16 days which address her behavior at school:

Teacher gave the school a lecture, but it was really meant for me. I don’t think what I did was so bad, but I guess I won’t do it again. I might catch it right there. . .

March 26, 1913


Don’t have my lessons out very well for tomorrow, but anyhow, I’m not going to get them out tonight.

March 30, 1913


Got my report card today. Had quite a fall in deportment. I must be really very bad . .

April 9, 1913

Of course, the class play was held on April 5, and Grandma was very busy with it—so maybe she had an excuse for not doing homework and other behavior issues.

Hmm. . . If a student today did the same things Grandma did, what would the teacher do?  Have standards for student behavior changed over the past one hundred years?

Went to Sunday School

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

Sunday, April 6, 1913:  Went to Sunday School this afternoon.

The old McEwensville Baptist Church probably was located somewhere on the lot that contains this yard and house.

The old McEwensville Baptist Church is long gone. It probably was once located somewhere on the lot that contains this yard and house.

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

Grandma probably was tired after the wonderful “splash” she’d made the previous evening in the class play.

Grandma wrote a  sentence this Sunday similar to one she wrote most Sundays—”Went to Sunday School this afternoon.”—though she often elaborated a bit more.

How was this Sunday similar or different from other Sundays? . . .

Was it a sunny day. . . or a cloudy one? Was it unseasonably hot. . . or unseasonably cold. . . or just a typical April day?

Was the road to McEwensville dry or muddy? If it was muddy, did Grandma wear galoshes or did she carefully try to avoid puddles?

Had church members seen the play the previous evening?—and did they praise her for her great acting?

What was the Sunday School lesson about? Was it interesting? . . . or boring?


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