What Was Grandma’s Oldest Sister Like?

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

Wednesday, May 7, 1913: Haven’t done much today to make this entry interesting. Besse was out here this morning.

Besse (Muffly) Hester
Besse (Muffly) Hester

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

Besse was Grandma’s oldest sister. She was  seven years older than Grandma—and would have been  25 years-old in 1913.

The diary and other sources provide lots of clues about what Besse was like.

Besse was married to a butcher, Curt Hester; and lived in nearby Watsontown.

According to the History of the McEwensville Schools, 1800-1958 by Thomas Kramm, Besse Muffly was a teacher at the Red Hill School, a one-room school house at the south end of McEwensville, from 1906-1909.  She probably quit teaching when she got married.

Recent photo of building that once housed Red Hill School. It is now a home.
Recent photo of building that once housed Red Hill School, the school where Besse taught. It is now a home.

Besse and Curt occasionally came out to the Muffly farm on Sunday afternoons. For example on March 2, 1913 Grandma wrote:

Went to Sunday School this morning. Besse and Curt were out this afternoon.

Besse also came out to the farm alone sometimes. For example, she helped with the cooking and serving when the threshers came:

Was in such terrible trepidation this morning, lest I would have to miss school and help Ma with the work, but Besse came to my relief. So glad I was. I missed those stacks and stacks of dishes for dinner, but have to confront them tonight.

September 13, 1911

Several places the diary mentioned Grandma, Besse, and their sister Ruth having fun together. For example, on April 15, 1911, Grandma wrote:

Besse was out this afternoon. We three kids went for arbutus and I got some this time.

Besse had also faced some difficult times. The previous year she had a baby that died shortly after birth. On April 9, 2012 Grandma wrote:

I was an aunt for one brief half a day yesterday, but didn’t know it until this morning. I was so disappointed when I heard it was dead. My little nephew was buried this afternoon. The baby I never saw. I feel like crying, when I think I am an aunt no longer.

35 thoughts on “What Was Grandma’s Oldest Sister Like?

  1. Bessie has a very kind face. I love that the Red Hill School building is still there. Were women required to stop teaching when they married, as was the case here in South Oz… or did Bessie choose domesticity I wonder…

      1. I also think that most women quit teaching when they got married back then. It may have been required a hundred years ago–but I think that many women continued to quit even into the mid-1900s. My mother was a teacher in the 1950s, but she quit when she got married.

    1. I suppose that she might possibly have taken a buggy–but my guess is that she walked. It was only a 1 1/2 or 2 miles. All the walking probably was good for people back then.

  2. How sad for Besse and the family to lose a child so shortly after birth, which seems like a relatively common experience 100 years ago. Were Besse and your grandmother close? Did seven years feel like a big age difference?

    1. Besse lived up into her 90s. When both Besse and Grandma were very elderly, they lived in the same nursing home. I like to think that they comforted each other as they faced the challenges of aging together.

  3. This is one of the things that I love about diaries — how with a few entries, the diary keeper puts flesh and bones to the folks who were heretofo not well know. Thanks for sharing not only Helena but also Ruthie and Bessie.

    1. One of the things that I enjoy about posting one day at a time, is that the slow pace enables me to notice the details that flesh out the personalities of the individuals mentioned in the diary.

  4. I have really enjoyed your diary entries. My grandmother Esther Linder was born in 1891, a couple of years older than Helena and probably lived the same sort of life as she lived near a small town in South Carolina. Her father was a cattle man but not dairy.

    1. I’d also guess that they had similar lives.In the diary Grandma often mentioned having the “watch the cows” during the spring and summer months so that they won’t get into the crop fields. I wonder if your grandmother also had to watch the cows.

    1. Infant mortality was so much higher back then. It had to have been really difficult for the mothers and other family members.

  5. This is so wonderful of you to share your Grandmother’s diary with everyone! Inspires me to dig out my father’s letters to his parents when he was serving in the Pacific Theatre in WW2…but maybe not just yet. How long did your Grandmother keep the diary?

    1. My grandmother kept the diary for 4 years–from January, 1911 through December ,1914.

      You’ll know when it’s the right time to dig your father’s letter out. . .

  6. My great-grandmother died giving birth to a stillborn child, and your entries really drive home the depth of loss felt by those experiencing such tragedy. Thank you for sharing your diaries–they’re very interesting and compelling.
    I believe my grandfather was born in Northumberland County…but was raised in Wisconsin.

    1. Whew, it must have been really rough for the family to have lost a wife and mother–and a child.

      It’s interesting that your grandfather might have been born in Northumberland County.

  7. Hi. I like her note on going for ‘arbutus’. Interesting that she used that more technical term for Mayflower. Her older sister seems kind and helpful to her ‘little’ sister. Jane

    1. There probably is regional variation in what they are commonly called. I think that in Pennsylvania, people generally call them arbutus rather than Mayflowers.

  8. My dad also grew up on a farm with siblings. Seems Sunday was a day for visiting and relaxing with friends dropping by. I remember that still as a kid, traditionally my cousins would come over or we’d go there. It’s too bad women had to quit work when they got married, especially that Besse had lost a newborn, might have been a nice way to keep busy.

    1. Arbutus is a kind of wild flower that blooms early in the spring. It’s fairly rare today. In the past, I think that people often gathered the flowers and put them in vases.

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