Not Studying Very Hard

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

Tuesday, November 12, 1912:  It seems to me that I’m not studying very hard these days.

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

Was the schoolwork easy or did Grandma have senioritis?

Recent photo of the building that once housed the McEwenville School. The high school was on the second floor.

Recent photo of the room that once was the high school classroom. The old slate chalkboard still sits along the wall. I can picture Grandma sitting in this room struggling to concentrate on her lessons.  Click here for more about the school building today.

What Should Grandma Write?

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

Monday, October 21, 1912:  Some good kind of mortal ought to tell me what to write, for I am beginning to get at the end of my string, as you surely can see by the tone of this entry.

I wish that Grandma had described what downtown McEwensville was like back then. I think that some of these homes were stores back then.

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

It’s interesting how Grandma seemed annoyed with herself when she couldn’t think of anything to write. Since she was keeping the diary for herself, it seems like she might have just some skipped days. But, Grandma seemed very disciplined about writing something every day. She must have been very firm with herself.

Hundred-Year-Old List of Qualities Needed to Succeed in Business

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

Sunday, March 24, 1912:I haven’t much to write today.

Recent photo of two small businesses in McEwensville–a beauty/barber shop and a bicycle shop.

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

Since Grandma didn’t write much today,  I’m going to go off on a tangent—

I happened upon a list of qualities needed to succeed in business in a 1912 magazine, and was surprised how relevant the list still seems today.

Qualities Needed to Succeed in Business

  1. Health
  2. Honesty
  3. Ability
  4. Initiative
  5. Knowledge of the Business
  6. Tact
  7. Sincerity
  8. Industry
  9. Open-Mindedness
  10. Enthusiasm
  11. Organization

The most important thing is to organize ourselves—make ourselves do the important work. We succeed only in proportion as we get the best work from other people. So I say let’s not drive tacks with a sledge hammer. Let the people who are carrying tack hammers do tack hammer work. If you are carrying a sledge hammer, do heavy work. Do the most important things in your business. Leave the details to other people.

Rural Manhood Magazine, Jan. 1912 (Published by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)

The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society

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

Thursday, February 21, 1911: The same old routine, I hope it will soon be broken. I was busily making errands today, they didn’t concern me so very much. I got a ride home from school with Oakes, and it was a little bit windy. The wind blew my cap off of my head, and I had to get out, and go back after it. Too bad, wasn’t it?

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

Ah, the ennui of  the dog days of winter. I know the feeling—the holidays were long past and an almost forgotten memory, the cold seemed like it would never end,  and spring seemed impossibly far away  (though the wind suggests there is a bit of a spring feel and that blustery March was on the horizon).  And, probably NOTHING was happening in McEwensville. A few years before Grandma’s time, McEwensville was a wild and crazy place. . .

The large white building has had many names over the years. In the era of the Horse Protective Society it was called the Washington Tavern.

The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society was the center of the social scene in McEwensville in the late 1800s–though it probably no longer existed in 1911 when Grandma began her diary. The farmers near McEwensville had had a lot of problems with horse thieves, and organized the society to recover the horses.

Each year at an annual meeting thirty men were selected to be part of the posse for the following year. According to  C.V. Clark in an address to the Northumberland County Historical Society, “The yearly meetings were held on the last Saturday of the year and this was a gala day in McEwensville. With a membership which at one time numbered 290, the town was filled.”  

The annual meetings of the Horse Protective Society were held at the Washington Tavern, but according to Clark the society’s by-laws indicated that “members should not introduce or bring any spirituous liquors of any kind into the room where the yearly meeting was being held, nor smoke tobacco while on business. Members misbehaving at the yearly meeting were to pay a fine ‘not exceeding ten cents.’ ”

Hmm–the meetings were held at a tavern, it was a gala event on the last Saturday of the year–yet no alcohol was allowed. I wonder what percentage of the members were fined in a typical year? . . . I guess the town has become more sedate over the years.

Winter Fun

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

Monday, February 20, 1911: A glorious snow came today, hurrah for the sleigh rides through the fleecy snow. I had a swift ride home from school this evening.

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

Sleigh rides sound awesome. There was probably a building anticipation of fun as the snow fell throughout the day. Grandma may have considered herself too grown-up, but some of the students probably enjoyed sledding during the lunch break.

In Grandma’s day, the school at McEwensville housed an elementary school on the first floor and a high school on the second. About 20 years after this diary was written my father attended elementary school in the same building. He talks about pulling his sled to and from school on snowy days so that he could use it during recess. (He walked nearly 2 miles each way and it seems like it would have been a hassle to pull a sled—but he assures me that it wasn’t).

A photo from last summer of the old "sledding hill" behind McEwensville High School. Look carefully to see the building through the trees.

Dad says that older students and younger students paired up for fast rides down the hill behind the school. Last summer when Dad and I were taking photos Dad was amazed that the sledding hill is now covered with trees—and and that it didn’t look nearly as long or steep as he had remembered it.

McEwensville Has Made the New York Times — Twice!

Saturday, January 7, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

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

Since there is again no diary entry today, I thought that it might be fun to see if McEwensville was ever mentioned in the New York Times. I searched the paper’s data base and found two news articles with a McEwensville connection.

Recent photo of the McEwensville United Church of Christ (Reformed Church)

According to the September 11, 1885, New York Times:


The Rev. J. K. Millett, of McEwensville, was drowned in the river at Watsontown yesterday. He was out in a boat with a young girl named Culp, and by some means the boat was upset. Miss Culp succeeded in saving her life by clinging to the boat, but Mr. Millet, although a good swimmer, went under. He was about 46 years old.

 McEwensville was again  mentioned in the New York Times on May 2, 1942:


 Edward Burrowes Jr., 21, star Princeton University middle distance runner, was in a satisfactory condition at the university infirmary tonight after physicians found he had punctured a lung in a dressing room accident at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, last Saturday following the Penn Relays.  . . Burrowes entered the infirmary last night complaining of a slight pain in his chest. He said he had slipped on the wet floor of the Franklin Field dressing room and had fallen on a sharp-handled comb. Burrowes is a member of the junior class and lives in McEwensville, Pennsylvania. He holds the I.C. 4-A half-mile championship and university records in the 440-year and half-mile runs.

Grandma grew up on a farm outside of McEwensville. She kept her diary between 1911 and 1914—about midway between McEwensville’s two moments of fame in the New York Times.

McEwensville High School

Friday, January 6, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

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

Since there is no diary entry again today, I’ll tell you a little  about the high school that Grandma attended.

Grandma attended McEwensville High School.  The school building is next to the cemetery at the edge of McEwensville. She generally walked the mile and a half or so from her home to school.

Recent photo of the building that once housed McEwensville High School.

 The high school contained only one classroom and it was located on the second floor of the school building—the elementary class was on the first floor. It was a three-year classical high school where students learned Latin, poetry, literature, history, and arithmetic.

In 1911 Rachel Oakes—a friend of Grandma and her sister Ruth—was the elementary teacher.

After they graduated from McEwensville High School some students continued their education by taking a fourth year of high school at Milton or Watsontown. For example, my grandfather went to Milton High School after he graduated from McEwensville.

Milton had a more comprehensive curriculum than McEwensville—and included business courses and other classes that would more directly prepare students for a career.

The last high school class to graduate from McEwensville High School was in 1921. The high school closed because it had few students since most students in the area wanted to attend a comprehensive high school for all four years.  

Twenty or so years after my grandmother wrote her diary, my father attended the school. At that time it was an elementary school. One teacher taught grades 1-4 in the room on the first floor. Another teacher taught grades 4-8 in a classroom on the second floor. 

After the school completely closed in the late 1950s, the building was converted into a fire station. But the fire station is now gone, and in recent years the building has sat vacant and abandoned.

My friends have expressed surprise that my grandmother attended high school. In the early 1900s about half of the children in the United States ended their school careers with an 8th grade education or less.   

However, according to Benjamin Andrews in a 1911 book he wrote about girls’ education, there were more female high school graduates in the early 1900s than male because men could easily get jobs without a degree. A key role of high schools at that time was to prepare students to become teachers.

I don’t know why Grandma’s parents decided to send her to high school. I don’t think that she ever became a teacher.