$5 Bill is Crowning Star of Graduation Gifts

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

Thursday, June 12, 1913: I was a bad girl today and am taking myself to task.

When Pa came home he brought me a graduating present. It was the crowning star of them all: a five dollar bill.



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

This is one of the few time that Grandma mentioned her father in the diary. It generally seemed like he probably spent much of his time out in the barn or fields—and that he wasn’t very involved in household activities

The previous day Grandma wrote that her father was away and that her married sister Ruth had come out to “help take care of us for Pop was away.”

What was he doing when he was away? Whatever it was must have gone extremely well, if he felt prosperous enough to give Grandma a five dollar bill for a graduation present. This would be the equivalent of about $120 today.

The graduation gifts sure straggled in over a long time period,Grandma graduated from McEwensville High School on April 23. In April she wrote that her mother gave her a $2 gold piece. It’s surprising that her father gave a separate gift, and that it took him a month and a half to give it to her.

Grandma made quite a haul. This is at least the 22nd gift that she received.

Overall a good day—but Grandma was mad at herself. Why did she do that she was taking herself to task?

37 thoughts on “$5 Bill is Crowning Star of Graduation Gifts

    1. I think that sometimes Grandma was too hard on herself, and was “punishing herself” for some minor offense that no one else was even aware of.

  1. Wow! That was SOME gift….wondering if Grandma saved all of it, or bought something special for herself??
    I really think Grandma’s teasing us sometimes – not telling us what she did that was so bad…!

    1. Maybe she was afraid that her mother or sister would sneak a peak at the diary and discover what she’d done if she included details. 🙂

  2. Every time I open your blog to read a post I see Helena’s photograph in the upper left corner and think, “she remind me of somebody,” but can’t quite put my finger on it. This morning it came to me – I think at first glance she looks like Patty Duke!

    1. I can’t quite see it, though obviously others can. I probably was too close to her to see it. Patty Duke was adorable when she was a teen, so it’s awesome if they look similar. 🙂

    1. It does seem like a lot, especially since the diary entries suggest that she didn’t receive very many gifts for other events or holidays (birthdays, Christmas).

      1. Interesting. Well graduation might have been like a rite of passage in the sense that now you’re grown up and ready to start your own family? I don’t know, I’m just guessing.

  3. Graduating from HIgh School at that time was a rare accomplishment, especially, I believe, for women. It would be equivalent, I think, to graduating from college before the number of on-line colleges proliferated in recent years. No slouch, your grandmother!

  4. That was quite a gift. But yes, what did she do that was so bad? She must not have gotten into trouble for it to receive that gift from her father!

  5. Graduating from school was a big deal as recent as fifty years ago, let alone one hundred. And, I too, wonder what she did that was bad. Possibly not and action, but a thought?

    1. It makes a lot of sense to me that it may have been a thought rather than an action. That would explain why her father didn’t seem to know about it. I think that people back then were really encouraged to self-censor “bad” thoughts.

  6. Sometimes Helena’s phrasing sounds so much like something my grandmother,(born in 1900) would have said. Grandma Call would teasingly say she had been bad when she indulged herself in any way. She called the romances and mystery stories she liked to read her “go to hell” reading!

    1. You might be right that people used stronger words to describe relatively minor things back then. The nuanced meanings of many words has shifted over the last last hundred years.

  7. I have a hunch your grandma “slept in” and that’s why she thought herself bad and took herself to task. I love that phrase and will use it some time. In fact right now, “I am taking myself to task” for delaying blogging. I have a fairly good excuse though.

    1. I love your suggestion. She worked so hard and it would be really funny if the thing that she took herself to task for was sleeping in.

      An aside–Don’t be too hard on yourself about blogging. We all just do the best we can. I remember apologizing to someone a year or two ago about not responding to comments for a couple weeks and she said–“Don’t worry about it. When your life settles down, just pick it up wherever you’re at and don’t worry about all the days you missed.” I’ve always found that to be good advice for blogging in general.

    1. You might be right. If so, he must have had to transport the cows or other livestock quite a distance since he was gone overnight. I wonder how they transported cows back in the days before trucks.

  8. Wow – $5 seemed like a lot of money to me when I graduated high school in 1974, so I looked it up – it was worth about $24 in today’s money. I can see why that $5 ($120) was a crowning star to your grandma!

    1. I’m about the same age as you–and it doesn’t seem like money should be worth so much less in the “few” years since our graduation. From one year to the next inflation doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Like you, I’m surprised how much it affects things over the longer run.

    1. I can remember an elderly great aunt who sent me a birthday card each year with a crisp dollar bill tucked inside. She probably didn’t realize how little a dollar was worth by the 1960s and 70s.

  9. It’d be really interesting to find out what she spend all that loot on….mmmm, I can’t wait to find out. I’m sure it went a long way. I did a post once with an old sears Catalog and you could by a so much with $5

    1. Those old Sears catalogs are so much fun! The descriptions are great, and some of the items for sale are so funny by today’s standards.

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