State Historic Site
Rosa-Maye & Manville Kendrick (AHC Kendrick Collection, TESHS)
Children at OW Ranch (Manville Kendrick Collection, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2008 - December 2008
Katherine Carson, a mother of two boys, stated in 1930 that "Too often a child is in the position of a recipient: always having things done for him and given to him." She and most other mothers agreed that children should contribute to the running of the home, if they were to reap the rewards:
From the time they were 5, my boys had certain chores. Soon they learned to help put away the clothes as they came from the laundry, set the table, weed the garden. When they were a little older, I expected them to make their beds before they went to school, and if the beds were a bit lumpy and the covers not on straight, I did not interfere with their jobs by remaking the beds.
Rare is the child who, before he or she is allowed to go out and play, doesn’t have some sort of task to perform around the house. It might be taking out the trash, washing the dishes, or making the beds – the task that Eula Wulfjen and her sister Mattie did every day:
The children were expected to be generally useful: the little girls took care of the treasured feather-beds which had been brought up from the south, stripping them to the tick every day, and smoothing them with a broom handle. They washed the dishes, and acquired the usual early hatred for this; they dusted; and they kept their own clothes in order. During the intervals between these tasks they went to the public schools, and played with the neighbors’ children.
In addition to cleaning, most girls were encouraged to help cook and serve meals in order to teach them the right way of doing things. How to set a proper table, how to fold linens so they last longer, how to serve an appealing meal – these were all valuable lessons that young ladies needed to learn, and where better to gain such education than in the family home. In the 1920s, Edna Sibley Tipton – the Martha Stewart of her day – wrote dozens of books and scores of magazine articles on entertaining in the “Modern Age.” In one, “To Help You When You Entertain,” she encouraged parents to have their children help prepare and serve the meal:
And when I say children I mean the son as well as the daughter. … Let it be the son’s task to start passing olives and celery around the table and let the daughter see to it that the nuts get handed around. When the first course has been consumed, allow the daughter to remove the plates of that course from one side of the table while the son performs the same duty at the other side.
Tipton also requested that the hostess keep several things in mind when making purchases for her table and pantry, in order that the children might observe and remember:
That colorful, good china helps make the foods it holds appear more appetizing; that crystalware or glassware is particularly appropriate for service of cooling concoctions; that soft lustrous damask covering the table makes service seem quiet, dignified and restful; that sterling silver adorning the table and holding tempting viands gives that air of elegance accredited to “Generations of gentle-folks."
One of the rewards for being a good little boy or girl might be a birthday party. Parties specifically for children were becoming very popular in the early 1900s, as evidenced by the many instructional books and tips available to parents in popular magazines. In countless articles, clever ideas for table decorations were given along with suggested menus consisting of sandwiches, vegetables, and nuts followed by birthday cake and ice cream.
A child’s birthday could be a time of high excitement and drama, so parents were warned not to expect perfect behavior. As Needlecraft Magazine told its readers in 1922:
Just because you are doing a little bit of extra work for the child, don’t expect her to turn into a little angel all at once. Remember, the idea of having a real party all their own is an exceedingly exciting event to a small person. Very few children really mean to be naughty on such a glorious occasion as this.
Although parties could be seen as opportunities for teaching manners and social decorum, even The New York Times recognized in 1893 the significant impact a great party could have on a child:
Children’s parties may be regarded as social obligations, as educational advantages, or, casting all theory and formality aside, they may be made occasions of intense delight, red-letter days in the calendar of childhood and happy memories for years to come.
Birthdays weren’t the only time American children had their own parties – seasonal soirees were popular as well, such as those celebrating Christmas, Halloween, Independence Day and Easter.
Although we do not know much detail about the children’s parties held at Trail End, we do know the family had a few of them. In a letter to his mother in 1939, Manville Kendrick tells of his oldest son’s eighth birthday celebration, one in which “little angels” were not altogether in evidence:
[John] had some of his friends for dinner, Billy Lucas, Billy Faiar, Jimmy Cheslar, and another whose name I forget. Outside minor differences of opinion, which nearly resulted in some of the guests going home before times, everything went off smoothly, and I think that all felt that the affair had been worthwhile.