18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Wednesday, October 15, 1913:
10/13 – 10/17: Nothing worth writing about for these days. Don’t go any place or do anything of much importance.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
I’m still fascinated by the 1913 textbook I found called Rural Arithmetic by John E. Calfee that I mentioned the previous two days. Since Grandma didn’t write anything specific for this date a hundred years ago, I am going to share a few more problems today.
Here are the problems:
1. If a cord of wood for cooking purposes lasts a family 3 weeks, how much does the family pay out in the course of a year for cook-stove wood when wood is $2 per cord? . . . when wood is $3 per cord?
2. If a quail, in the course of a year, eats 25¢ worth of grain, and destroys $2 worth of harmful insects and weed seed, how much has a farmer injured himself by killing 3 pairs of quails if a pair raise a brood of 12 each year?
3. If the water running from a piece of land that has been planted with corn contained 1 pound of sediment for every 250 gallons of water, how much soil was carried away from a 40-acre corn field after a 2-inch rainfall, with 1/4 of the water running off?
4. If a team travels 16 1/2 miles a day with a breaking plow, how many days work can a man save in plowing 30 acres (110 rod by 43 7/11 rod) by using a 16-inch instead of a 12-inch plow?
5. A county store on a gravel road pays 1¢ a mile for each 100 pounds of freight hauled from the railroad station.; a county seat of the same road 24 miles from the railroad, 18 miles of which are not gravel, pays 2¢ a miles for hauling 100 pounds of freight. What is the annual bad-road tax paid by this county seat upon 300,000 pounds of freight?
It’s amazing how much you can learn about routine activities (as well as issues and challenges) a hundred years ago from word problems.
It’s also intriguing to think about how pedagogical experts a hundred years ago must have believed that it was important to have textbooks with problems that were designed specifically for the rural context that the students experienced in their day-to-day lives.