1913 Sunbury Teachers’ Meeting

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

Friday, May 2, 1913:  Dear old Ruthie went to Sunbury this morning and isn’t coming home until tomorrow night. Rather miss the kid, too. I’m afraid I’ll soon have to begin to watch cows for that time is now at hand.

Source: The History of McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm (Used with permission)
Row 1: Rachel Oakes (middle), Blanche Bryson (right). Row 2: Ruth Muffly (left) Source: The History of McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm (Used with permission)

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

I can’t believe it, but I may know why Grandma’s sister Ruth went to Sunbury. I think it was to attend a teachers’ meeting.

Sometimes I’m amazed how the pieces fit together. There is a photo in The History of the McEwensville Schools 1800-1958 of 12 women who attended a teachers meeting in Sunbury in 1913. One of them is Ruth Muffly—so I’m speculating that the reason she went to Sunbury on this date was to attend that meeting.

Ruth was a teacher at a nearby one-room school-house. The other two women who were identified in the photo were Rachel Oakes and Blanche Bryson. Both are mentioned in the diary. They were friends of Grandma and Ruth—as well as teachers.

Sunbury is about 15 miles from McEwensville, and it is the county seat of Northumberland county. The meeting probably was held to provide information and professional development for the teachers at many small schools scattered across the county.

Ruth wasn’t exactly a kid–she was 21 and three years older than Grandma.

Grandma often got annoyed with Ruth—but almost immediately missed her when she was gone. Was it because she had to do more work—or was it because she missed the companionship?

Maybe Grandma wished that Ruth was at home to help watch the cows. During previous summers Grandma often mentioned needing to watch the cows so that they didn’t escape from the pasture and get into the crops.

28 thoughts on “1913 Sunbury Teachers’ Meeting

  1. Not sure why I am thinking about this question, but wondered how Ruth traveled to Sunbury. Would she have taken a train, or would they have gone by buggy or wagon?

    1. My guess is that she would have taken a train. There was really good passenger rail service in central Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. She probably either took a wagon or train to Watsontown (there was a whistle stop for the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg and Berwick railroad at the feed mill which bordered the Muffly farm)–and then gotten on another train that would have taken her to Sunbury.

  2. I think they should have had a little spiked punch at that meeting, would’ve cheered them up. LOL I’ve noticed people didn’t do much smiling in old time pictures, was it because they took too long to set up and snap them?

    1. They do look very serious in the photo–but remember that this was the era when the temperance movement was at it’s peak in the US, and that prohibition would be enacted within a few years. 🙂

    1. I find the time that I spend doing research for this blog to be particularly rewarding when the pieces fit together like they did for this post. 🙂

    1. We’ve both been following what Grandma’s been doing for long enough now to recognize the seasonal ebb and flow of her activities. 🙂 Thanks your wonderful support over the past many months.

    1. Watching the cows sounds sooo boring. I still can’t figure out why they didn’t have solid barbed wire fences that would keep the cows in the pasture.

  3. Maybe watching the cows was like us watching television – a mindless way to pass time while Ruth was away. Sounds like there was a bit of jealousy re Ruth

    1. Grandma goes seem a bit jealous of Ruth–and there definitely are places in the diary where you can sense sibling rivalry.

      My sense is that Grandma’s parents rotated responsibility for watching the cows between the children.The past two summers Grandma often mentioned watching the cows. It seemed like the cows were forever getting into the crop fields when she didn’t watch them carefully enough. It seems like it would be an easy enough job (I can picture reading a book while doing it) as long as one didn’t get distracted. I have no clue why the family didn’t have their pasture fenced with sturdy barbed wire.

  4. Sunbury, I know that town or at least know of folks that lived there or thereabouts — I am always rather taken with the fact that some of my ancestor came from that area of PA.

    1. Sunbury is a nice town, and is located at the intersection of the West and North Branches of the Susquehanna River. It is the county seat of Northumberland County. Northumberland County is a really interesting L shaped county. Sunbury is at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical “legs”. Grandma lived in the northern part of it (the vertical leg). This leg is along the West Branch of the river and is primarily an agricultural region. The horizontal leg of the county is the more populous part–and parts of it were once anthracite coal mining areas.

  5. Oh, I’m sure you are right and this is why Ruth went to Sunbury. Isn’t it wonderful that you have this photo? I wonder if any of the older local people in your area could identify any of the others whose names are not known?

    1. It’s possible that there might be some elderly people in the area who could identify them. My guess is that the three teachers who were identified were from the McEwensville area–and that the other teachers in the picture were from other parts of the county.

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