Important to Memorize Latin Vocabulary–Though Difficult to Dig Into Studies

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

Tuesday, September 10, 1912:  Such a time as I have been having a digging at my studies.

Roman temple
Picture of Roman Temple in An Elementary Latin Course (1909)

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

Which subjects was Grandma having difficulty digging into?  Latin is the only subject that she’s mentioned since school began in late August.

Maybe she needed to memorize some Latin vocabulary words.

A Latin textbook from the early 20th century gave teachers the following pedagogical advice:

Have the material in each lesson taken up and learned in the order in which it comes. The vocabularies are so short that the pupil can be required to learn them before attempting to translate the sentences.

In assigning the lesson, pronounce the new words to the class before they have seen them, having each word pronounced in turn by some pupil; give the meaning and call for English cognates if there are any. Then have the pupils read the words and commit them to memory. They will have a better command of words learned in this way than when they are learned merely as they are met in the sentences. Drill the class constantly on vocabularies past and present.

An Elementary Latin Course (1909) by Franklin Hazen Potter

(An aside—I don’t think any textbooks today would direct teachers to “drill” the students. I guess that pedagogical methods have changed over the years.)

Page from Latin Textbook Used a Hundred Years Ago

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

Friday, September 6, 1912:  We had a test in three of our studies today. Didn’t make a very good mark in Caesar, but because I omitted to look up some rules, so you see whence I got to today, I was at a loss what to write.

page from Latin text book
Source: An Elementary Latin Course (1909). Click on page to enlarge.

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

Latin sounds hard. Apparently the class was reading Caesar–probably Caesar’s Gallic War.

The introduction to a Latin text published in 1909 describes how the students first study grammar to prepare to read Caesar.

The lessons have been made fairly comprehensive, in order to afford an adequate preparation for reading Caesar.

The vocabulary of the seventy-eight lessons includes about six hundred words exclusive of proper names. Caesar uses about ninety-four percent of these words of these words and Cicero ninety-six percent.

An Elementary Latin Course by Franklin Hazen Potter

What Courses Did High School Students Take a Hundred Years Ago?

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

Tuesday, August 27, 1912:  Brought home my Latin Grammar, all the time thinking I had my Caesar. Didn’t want the former at all. Must study some now, so I’ll soon be in the midst of my studies this evening.

Guess I will like Mr. Teacher.

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

Hmm. . . This is the first time that Grandma’s mentioned Latin during the year and a half that I’ve been posting her diary entries. . . . though she apparently had taken some Latin in previous years because she used the Latin term puella bona (good girl) in a diary entry that I posted a few days ago.

I was amazed to discover that a hundred years ago, most females who went high school learned Latin. According to the August, 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal, here’s what females were studying in high school:

Latin, French, or German:  82 out of every hundred

Algebra and Geometry:  87 out of every hundred

English Literature:  57 out of every hundred

Rhetoric:  57 out of every hundred

History: 55 out of every hundred

Domestic Economy (sewing, cooking, and household economics): 3 out of every hundred

The article was making the point that few females took domestic economy classes—and that maybe more should.

New Teacher for 1912-13 School Year

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

Tuesday, May 7, 1912: Went uptown to have my dress fitted this afternoon. The future teacher of the M.H.S. was elected last evening. He was up in the high school yesterday at noon. He is rather stubby, inclined to be stout and has yellow hair. Such I took in at a glance. I wonder what he will be like. Ahem.

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

Whew, McEwensville High School sure went through the teachers.  In February, 1912 a teacher resigned and was replaced by another teacher, Forest Dunkle.  In the previous day’s diary entry about the last day of school, Grandma mentioned Mr. Dunkle; but hadn’t indicated that he was quitting.According to The History of the McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm:

The high teacher turnover rate, especially at the High School prior to 1916 resulted in a new teacher almost every year. At least one teacher, and perhaps more, would not return to teach the following year because the school board refused to increase the teacher’s salary.

The book also indicated that the new teacher’s name was Bruce Bloom—and that he taught at McEwensville High School for just one year, 1912-1913. Hopefully Grandma will like Mr. Bloom and have a good senior year.

School Year Was Shorter in 1912

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

Wednesday, April 17, 1912: At last I have managed to get a subject that I think will suit me. I read it over this evening. It was very interesting to read.

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

The previous day Grandma wrote that she was trying to find a topic for a presentation on the upcoming last day of school. What was the interesting subject that Grandma came up with?  I wonder what types of topics were considered appropriate back then.

The school year was shorter a hundred years ago—and length varied a lot between one school and the next.  For example, the school year at the one-room school-house where Grandma’s sister Ruth taught ended on March 27.



Schools in the rural districts of Northumberland county are closing for the vacation of several months, and will not resume until the fall. In the rural districts many of these schools closed this week, and the various teachers will be seeking employment elsewhere until time shall travel over a course of perhaps several months, when they will be found behind the teacher’s desk, instructing young minds and in some cases wielding the rod, urging some tardy loiterer along the paths of knowledge.

Seven months is the average school term in the rural districts, and at the close of March and the beginning of April the school boy looks for the close of the school, and incidentally helps his father in the preparation of the soil for the planting of the crops.

Milton Evening Standard (April 6, 1912)

A Dry Book About the Doings of the Greeks

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

Friday, April 12, 1912:  It rained this afternoon. I got rather wet coming home from school this evening. I’ve started to digest a dry book about the doings of the Greeks.

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

What book was Grandma reading? This diary entry sent me searching for an old book on the Greeks.

I found a dry –I want to call it mind-numbing–book called Greek and Roman Civilization by Fred Morrow Fling, Ph.D. that was published in 1902.

Amazingly on the inside cover there was a stamp which indicated that it once had been in a public school library (though the library was in the wrong state). But  it provides an indication of the types of books that were in high school libraries years ago.

No. 1800           Price _____

Public School Library

Dawson, Minn.

Library Rules— No person shall have more than one book at a time, nor keep that more than two week, and if kept longer a fine of five cents shall be imposed.

If a book is lost or injured, the price of the book or set shall be charged.

Here’s how Chapter 1 begins:


Homer probably never lived, and the Iliad is evidently a national product, not composed by one man at one time, but by many men at different times. As a record of the Trojan War, the poem has practically no value. Its real value to the student of history is due to the fact that it unconsciously reveals to us the manners and customs of the age in which it was composed. While the imagination may construct wholes that are not really, the real elements with which the poet or novelist works are drawn from experience. It is possible, then, for the historian to sift out these elements and make use of them. . .

Read Evangeline

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

Wednesday, March 27, 1912: I read Evangeline today and found it very interesting. This was the last day of Ruth’s school term. She has so many things mapped out to do, but whether they will ever be accomplished I cannot tell.

Statue of Evangeline, Nova Scotia, Canada (Source: Wikipedia)

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

Evangeline is an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that tells the story of an Acadian girl named Evangeline who was separated from her beloved Gabriel by circumstances beyond their control. Evangeline traveled throughout America in search of him. After years of searching she finally found him when he was gravely ill and he died in her arms.

You can find the entire poem on the University of Virginia Library’s website.


Grandma’s sister Ruth was a teacher at one of the one-room schoolhouses near McEwensville. It sounds like this was the last day of the school year for that school. I suppose that the children were needed at home to help with the spring planning. It’s amazing how short the school year once was at some schools.