Girls and Women Fishing a Hundred Years Ago

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

Monday, July 28, 1913 – Thursday, July 31, 1913:  Nothing very much doing for these days. It’s so terrible hot and I have a hard time of it just doing nothing. I’d hate to go anyplace such weather as this is.

women fishing a hundred years agoPicture caption: Who said girls couldn’t—and shouldn’t—fish down on the old dock or under the sycamore? Who gave the outdoors to their brothers anyway?  Source: Good Housekeeping (July, 1913)

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

There’s no new diary entry to post  today since Grandma apparently didn’t write anything for four days—and then summarized what she was thinking  at the end of the time period.

But, I wonder if Grandma ever did any fun activities on hot summer days. Did she ever go fishing, either in the creek that flowed along the edge of the farm or in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River which flows through the nearby town of Watsontown?

The text of the short article beside the picture seems a bit odd to me, but it probably made perfect sense a hundred years ago. It says:


There’s no doubt whatever about it, men have all the best of it in this world, and women have to put up with ‘most anything. Why, just take that one example of the way the men go rooting in the back of the closet on the top floor after that old fishing-rod, the one with the black thread all wrapped about the part of it that split once when—everyone in the neighborhood knows it was five pounds. And there’s the fuss they make over the disgraceful old clothes that are fit for only the rag-bag, and goodness knows hardly that, , and the disreputable hat that you were planning to give to Mandy Brown’s husband the very next time he came after the ashes, and—

Good Housekeeping (July, 1913)

Warrior Run Creek near the Muffly farm
Warrior Run Creek near the Muffly farm
Recent photo of the bridge at Watsontown. This is the second bridge that was built a this site. It's hard to believe that a hundred years ago the first bridge had not yet been built.
Recent photo of the river at Watsontown.

29 thoughts on “Girls and Women Fishing a Hundred Years Ago

  1. I wonder too if her activities were limited not just by weather but what girls were *allowed* to do. Fishing off a dock in a resort like Saratoga might be viewed differently than wading into her local creek. Anyhow, hope she manages to beat the heat!

    1. You’re absolutely right; the girls in the picture look like they are fishing from the dock at some elegant resort area. I can’t get over how dressed-up they look for fishing–especially when the text that accompanies the picture discusses how men wear old clothes when fishing.

  2. Maybe it was considered not feminine? People sure seemed to be more concerned with lady-like-ness and the such back then but it looks like some of these molds were beginning to be broken. I wonder what they would have thought of today’s woman, the ones that go hunting for instance, back then?

    1. I also think that fishing may not have been considered lady-like by some people back then–and that the magazine may have been trying to advance “modern” ideas about women could do by publishing this short article.

      Your mention of the molds beginning to break made me think of the suffragettes and other early feminists who did so much hard work that created the foundations for changes later in the 20th century.

  3. I think – given the picture – that it’s ironic. They were making fun of the guys who went to such trouble and made such a fuss, when the women look so marvelous and are having a relaxing time with their cane poles.

    1. I had exactly the same reaction–the girls in the picture sure weren’t wearing “disgraceful old clothes that were fit only for the rag bag.”

    1. They definitely had ice cream makers. They were regularly advertised in magazines. Here’s the link to a previous post with an ad for one:

      Based on the diary it seems like her family made ice cream in the winter (when ice would have been plentiful and it would have been easy to store the ice cream) rather than in the summer. But I would guess that larger towns that had electricity a hundred years ago probably had ice cream shops.

  4. Seems to me that Miss Muffly may be “stuck in a rut” and feeling a bit “down”… extremely hot weather sure adds to any misery 😦 … well, it does for me {chuckle}…

    1. I agree that the girls in the picture look very over-dressed for fishing. I can’t figure out why the magazine chose a photo that doesn’t seem to quite work with the article. I wonder if readers a hundred years ago had the same reaction.

  5. Love the picture of the women fishing in those lovely clothes! Fun post, made me laugh! It’s been raining so much everywhere I’ve been this summer that I haven’t been really hot as other years. I grew up with no AC in our house and temperatures were usually between 95-100 degrees! How we survived back then I don’t know! 🙂

    1. You’re very observant. I think that the water probably was high. I took the photo in the spring, but used it in this post because I didn’t have a picture of the river that was taken in the summer.

  6. Poor grandma, I can just imagine how hot it must have been, one of those days when you don’t know where to put yourself. She was probably too lady-like to even dream of going fishing like the boys did!

  7. The fashion of the ladies those days are great! I hope your grandma did fish and did have fun doing things that she’d love but then again she may be too ladylike as commented above 😀

    1. I’ll probably burn out before I respond to very many more comments- tonight-you were busy today. But I’m really enjoying your comments. It’s nice to revisit some of those old posts, and your comments are so insightful and fun.

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