Recalling Past Events to Improve the Future: Let’s Make, Alter, and Repair Our Own Clothes

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

Wednesday, April 2, 1913:  About the same as the other days.

Triangle Shirt Factory Fire--March 25, 1911 (photographer unknown)
Triangle Shirt Factory Fire–March 25, 1911 (photographer unknown)

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

I’d like to thank Kristin at Finding Eliza for sharing a link with me that I found fascinating and provided the inspiration for this post.

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today I’m going to write about an important issue both a hundred years ago and today: poor working conditions for garment workers.

On March 25, 2011 I wrote a post about the hundredth anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City that killed many workers. The public outrage over that fire led to many safety and labor improvements in the garment industry (and other industries).

To commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, The Sewing Rebellion website included a downloadable pattern for the shirtwaist that was made by the Triangle Factory.

The Sewing Rebellion points out that many garment workers in other countries still work under very poor conditions, and encourages people to emancipate themselves from the global garment industry by learning how to alter, mend and make their own garments and accessories.

What goes around, comes around. It’s intriguing to think that instead of buying new clothes each season, maybe we could again learn how to make and alter our clothes.

Reo Car Ad: How Long Does it Take to Drive From New York to San Francisco?

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

Wednesday, July 17, 1912:  About the same as yesterday.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later

Sounds like another boring summer day. I’ve been posting Grandma’s diary entries for more than a year and a half now. In that time period she’s never gone more than a few miles from her home.

Grandma went  to Milton (which was about 5 miles from her home); to Turbotville (which was about 4 miles); to Montandon (which was about 8 miles); to Ottawa –Limestone Township, Montour County (about 8 miles). She also regularly went to McEwensville and Watsontown—both of which were about a mile from the Muffly farm.

Did Grandma ever dream of seeing the world?

Reo Car Advertisement
Source: Farm Journal (April 1911)



Top and Merger Automatic Windshield extra

New York to San Francisco

10 days 15 hours 13 minutes

steady going and not a wrench touched to the Reo engine.

That’s your answer to every question you can ask about the Reo.

The Reo must have speed and power, to keep going like that over bad roads and hard climbs found in the Great American Desert and the Rocky Mountains.

The Reo must have strength, to stand the constant and tough strain.

The Reo must be reliable. A car that stands a test like that, and then breaks the record from New York to Los Angeles, and then hill-climbing record up Mount Hamilton, and then the record from Topeka to Kansas City, and still is in perfect condition—that is the perfect proof of reliability.

Comfort?  Prove it yourself.  Get the nearest Reo dealer to take you for a ride.

Send for the catalogue and “Reo and the Farmer.”  Plain facts.

R M Owen & Co.  General Sales Agent for Reo Motor Company.

You can do it with a Reo.

Whew—10 days 15 hours 13 minutes sounds brutal.

According to Mapquest, today you can get on Interstate Route 80 in New York City and end up in San Francisco 1 day 19 hours and 48 minutes later (assuming you drive straight through).

Got Up While Still Dark and Milked Cows

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

Wednesday, January 24, 1912: We had to vacate the school room while Jake swept at noon. Spent the time by taking exercise on the school ground. Ruth and I had sort of a fight this morning. I happened to have all the covers and couldn’t  get them back right, so I got up and went out to milk in the darkness.

After Grandma milked each cow, she probably poured the pail of milk into a can similar to this one. To read ad, click on it to make larger. (Source; Kimball's Dairy Farmer Magazine, December, 15, 1911)

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

Jake was Grandma’s teacher. It always amazes me that she often referred to him by his first name in the diary.

Grandma and her sister Ruth shared a double bed—at least during the cold, winter months. They must have had some fight over the blankets if Grandma decided to get up early to milk the cows instead of staying in the warm bed as long as possible.

Rural “Mass Transit” a Hundred Years Ago

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

Saturday, January 20, 1912: Ruth and I went to Milton this afternoon. We both had our pictures taken. I hope mine won’t be any bigger than what I am, but I won’t know for a whole week yet.

Old postcard of South Front Street, Milton. (Source: Milton Historical Society, Used with permission.)

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

Sounds like Grandma was worried that she’d look heavy in the photo. I wonder if she’d gained weight over the holiday season.

The Muffly farm is about 6 miles from Milton—but the sisters probably used “mass transit” to get there.

Ruth and Grandma probably walked the two miles to Watsontown—or  maybe they took the train to Watsontown. (There was a whistle-stop for the Susquehanna Bloomsburg and Berwick Railroad at Truckenmiller’s Feed Mill which was located near their farm.) Once the sisters got to Watsontown they would have taken the trolley from Watsontown to Milton.

It amazes me how many transportation options were available in a relatively remote area of Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. And, how trolleys and passenger rail service vanished a little later in the 20th century as automobile ownership proliferated.

Was a Rather Merry Christmas After All

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

Monday, December 25, 1911: Merry Xmas, Merry Xmas, but nobody wished me a Merry Xmas. I mean in person of course. I was wished a Merry Xmas on different post-cards throughout the week. I felt rather blue this morning. Could hardly realize it was Christmas, but felt better when I saw my presents. Ruth got me the one I wanted her to get: a bow tie. Besse gave me goods for a waist and a piece of neck wear. Mrs. Kerr, my Sunday School teacher, gave me a miniature suitcase filled with candy last evening. And lastly a dollar bill from my mother. Christmas is almost over now, but I am looking forward to New Year’s. Then I can have the commencing my second chapter. Oh what a fib I almost wrote. I was wished a Merry Xmas right this morning and I almost forget about it. I was rather merry after all even if we did not have company.

Christmas postcard, circa 1911

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


Christmas Eve

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

Sunday, December 24, 1911:Succeeded in getting my verses learnt for today at least. Went to Sunday School this morning. After buying Xmas presents, I find it my horrendous duty to distribute them, so down to Besse’s I went to present her with my charming Xmas present.  This evening Ruthie and I went up to McEwensville to attend the Xmas services at the Lutheran Church. B. was there. Today was different from all other days in this year, I believe. I didn’t have anything to do with the dishes all day.

Messiah Lutheran Church, McEwensville

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

I can just picture a teen writing this entry–with its total focus on the things that are important to a 16-year-old.  Who was B.? . .

But I’m going to focus on the Christmas Eve service–

When I was a child I regularly went to candlelight services at Messiah Lutheran Church  — the same church Grandma attended on Christmas Eve a hundred years ago.  I wonder if the services changed much over the years.

In the middle part of the last century, I remember singing wonderful old-time carols —We Three Kings, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels,  . .. . ..

We’d end with Silent Night after all of the lights had been extinguished except for the candles we were lighting.

(Of course, there was no electricity in 1911—so the church would have been lit with lanterns and candles for the entire service.)

I don’t know why, but I have strong memories of one year when an elderly woman didn’t extinguish her candle at the end of the service, and took the flickering light out into the cold night.

I remember asking my mother why the woman didn’t follow the directions—and my mother said that the old lady was remembering Christmas’s from long ago and that we should let her be.  I looked at the woman and could see how happy she looked as her face was illuminated by the flickering light.

Traditions, like Christmas Eve services, can so wonderfully pull the young and the old together.

Trying to Memorize 27 Bible Verses

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

Saturday, December 23, 1911:Went after my Xmas tree this afternoon. Ruth made some candy for Christmas. Made a general nuisance of myself all day. Jimmie and I have our scraps occasionally. Just now am trying to commit twenty-seven verses to memory. Have about half of them, and the rest yet to learn.

Was Grandma memorizing the Christmas story?

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

Whew, 27 verses is a lot! Grandma was trying to memorize 700+ Bible verses so that her Sunday School would give her a Bible. She’d been working on it since sometime prior to September. (I think that I’d give up before I even started, but Grandma apparently was still trying to reach her goal.)