Got Up While Still Dark and Milked Cows

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

Wednesday, January 24, 1912: We had to vacate the school room while Jake swept at noon. Spent the time by taking exercise on the school ground. Ruth and I had sort of a fight this morning. I happened to have all the covers and couldn’t  get them back right, so I got up and went out to milk in the darkness.

After Grandma milked each cow, she probably poured the pail of milk into a can similar to this one. To read ad, click on it to make larger. (Source; Kimball's Dairy Farmer Magazine, December, 15, 1911)

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

Jake was Grandma’s teacher. It always amazes me that she often referred to him by his first name in the diary.

Grandma and her sister Ruth shared a double bed—at least during the cold, winter months. They must have had some fight over the blankets if Grandma decided to get up early to milk the cows instead of staying in the warm bed as long as possible.

Comparison: 1912 and 2012 Algebra Textbooks

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

Tuesday, January 23, 1912:  Sleigh rides are a thing of the past now. There is no danger of freezing yourself now. I’m at a standstill in Algebra.

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

Maybe Grandma was struggling in algebra because the textbook was confusing.

To get a sense of how algebra textbooks have changed over the past 100 years. I compared the promotional materials for an algebra textbook published in 2012 with the information in the preface of an algebra textbook published in 1912.

The Books

2012 Book

Beginning & Intermediate Algebra, (4th Edition) by John Tobey, Jr., Jeffrey Slater,  Jamie Blair, and Jennifer Crawford (Pearson)

1912 book

Durrell’s School Algebra by Fletcher Durrell (Charles E. Merrill Company)


Of course the book published in 2012 is brightly colored with lots of pictures and figures (and there are numerous supplemental online resources). The 1912 book is black and white with only a few pictures.

The 1912 book looks denser than then new one. However, the chapter titles are similar. For example both books had a chapter called Factoring.


2012:  “. . . builds essential skills one at a time by breaking the mathematics down into manageable pieces. This practical “building block” organization makes it easy for students to understand each topic and gain confidence as they move through each section.”

1912:  “The main object in writing this School Algebra has been to simplify principles and give them interest, by showing more plainly, if possible, than has been done heretofore, the practical or common-sense reason for each step or process.”


2012:  “Student Practice problems are paired with every example in the text . . .”

1912: “A large number of problems. . . .”

Review and Reinforce

2012:  “Students will find many opportunities to check and reinforce their understanding of concepts throughout the text . . .”

1912: “Numerous and thorough reviews of the portion of the Algebra already studied are also called for.”

Went Visiting Instead of Studying

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

Monday, January 22, 1912:  Ruth and I went up to Oakes’ this evening. I didn’t care very much about going as I had my lessons to study and don’t do so much as it is.

Recent photo of the farm where the Oakes family lived.

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

Brrr. . . it sounds like  a cold walk in the dark.

Grandma and her sister Ruth would have walked down the road that went past their house to the farm where their friend Rachel Oakes lived.

Rachel’s brothers, Alvin and James, may have also been there. The previous spring Ruth dated James—but he hasn’t been mentioned in the diary in months, so I don’t think that they were still dating.

Went Visiting: Only One Uncle at Home

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

Sunday, January 21, 1912: Pa and I went over to Ottawa today. I suppose if I had expected yesterday to do today I would have been disappointed. It’s my luck. But the unlucky thing about it was that Uncle George was the only one at home. I made the coffee. I would have liked to have known what it tasted like, but you see I don’t drink any.

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

Ottawa is a tiny village in Limestone Township, Montour County—and is located about 12 miles east of the Muffly farm.

George Muffly was a brother of Grandma’s father (Albert Muffly). He lived with is brother Samuel and his widowed sister Mary and her two two children (20 year-old Kathryn and 15 year-old John). Grandma probably hoped that her cousin Kathryn would be there.

Grandma’s father was one of eleven children of Samuel K. and Charlotte Muffly. He was born in 1857 and was the fourth oldest child in the family. George was the youngest. He was born in 1874 and would have been 35 years old when this diary entry was written.

According to the 1910 census George was single and lived with his 43-year-old single brother Samuel and his widowed sister Mary Feinour and her two children. Mary was two year older than Grandma’s father.

An aside–According the 1920 census, Samuel was still single, but lived alone. George apparently had married. Mary died in 1912. She is buried in the Watsontown Cemetery next to her parents. Somehow I sense that Mary had a difficult life. I wish I knew more about her—though she was a very distant relative and is really tangential to the family members that my research focuses on.

Mary's tombstone is on the left. Her mother's is in the middle and her father's is on the right.

For more about the genealogy of the Muffly family, click here.

Rural “Mass Transit” a Hundred Years Ago

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

Saturday, January 20, 1912: Ruth and I went to Milton this afternoon. We both had our pictures taken. I hope mine won’t be any bigger than what I am, but I won’t know for a whole week yet.

Old postcard of South Front Street, Milton. (Source: Milton Historical Society, Used with permission.)

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

Sounds like Grandma was worried that she’d look heavy in the photo. I wonder if she’d gained weight over the holiday season.

The Muffly farm is about 6 miles from Milton—but the sisters probably used “mass transit” to get there.

Ruth and Grandma probably walked the two miles to Watsontown—or  maybe they took the train to Watsontown. (There was a whistle-stop for the Susquehanna Bloomsburg and Berwick Railroad at Truckenmiller’s Feed Mill which was located near their farm.) Once the sisters got to Watsontown they would have taken the trolley from Watsontown to Milton.

It amazes me how many transportation options were available in a relatively remote area of Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. And, how trolleys and passenger rail service vanished a little later in the 20th century as automobile ownership proliferated.

Ruth’s Birthday

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

Friday, January 19, 1912: You walk through slush instead of snow for the present. I pulled Ruthie’s ears. I tell her she is getting to be an old maid but really don’t mean it.

I was rather mad this afternoon. We had some Algebra problems that I didn’t know how on earth to do them. But I guess I can do them now if I try hard enough.

Ruth Muffly*

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

A hundred years ago today was Grandma’s sister Ruth’s 20th birthday. People used  to pull the birthday person’s ear lobes one time for each year, so Grandma would have pulled Ruth’s ears 20 times.

In 1911, on Ruth’s birthday, Grandma woke Ruth by pulling her ears. She made have done the same thing in 1912.

*1913 photo of Ruth. Photo used with permission. Source: The History of the McEwensville Schools: 1800-1958 by Thomas Kramm.

A Novel, New Way to Save Recipes–Recipe Boxes and Cards

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

Thursday, January 18, 1912: To write something when you have nothing to write is an impossible task.

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

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’m going to go off on a tangent.

When I began working on this blog I knew that cars, airplanes, and telephones were all relatively new technology in 1912–I was amazed to discover that recipe boxes and cards were also a new idea.

I got my recipe box when I got married many years ago--and many of the recipes in it are old family recipes that were copied at that time. Who would have guessed that I was compiling the recipes in the modern way?

Here are some excerpts from an article called “A Housekeeper’s Filing Cook Book A Novel Way to Save Recipes and Household Hints in a Systemic and Convenient Form,” that was in the March 1912 issue of National Food Magazine:

Every year housekeeping becomes more of a science. Shiftless methods and poor tools give place to system and efficient utensils, so that housekeeping is taking the rightful place by the side of other well-managed businesses.

One of the greatest aids to system in business offices is the filing drawer, or cabinet. A clever housewife has adapted the filing idea to her own needs and developed a filing cook book which she and several others have been using successfully for some time past.

Cards measuring 5×8 were bought at a stationer’s and fitted into a pasteboard drawer such as can be bought to fit the cards. The drawer holds over two hundred cards. Any size card may be used but the above has been found the most convenient.

The cards are grouped under sub-heads is alphabetical order, as Bread, Cake, Desserts, Meats, Pastry, Oysters, Salads, Specials, Vegetables, etc.

On these cards are written or typed, under their proper sub-head, choice recipes from friends, the favorite dishes of the hostess or more particularly, recipes taken from culinary magazines such as the National Food Magazine.

The “old way,” to save a recipe was to paste it anywhere on any page in an old note-book which became covered with flour and mayonnaise whenever used. Or the recipe was just “tucked away” among the leaves of the real cook book—and never found.

Here instead of writing down your friend’s recipe for her best sponge cake or pasting some of the fine recipes you have read in the National Food Magazine into a messy book, in a disorderly fashion—you write the recipe on a card, or paste the clipping on a card and slip it into its proper place . . .