June 4, in 2008 and 1906

Susan Fletcher

The spring that I wrote about in my last post has slipped away and now it is summer in earnest here in Cleveland. Three summer church camps have infiltrated the campus of Lee University. As I walked to work this morning in the warm air I passed groups of middle schoolers doing their morning devotions on the pedestrian mall. Summer camp workers were filling coolers with pint-sized water bottles, getting ready for a blistering day. This is the pattern that June and July will follow, as different camps rotate in and out. The campers arrive screaming with joy and energy on Monday afternoons and keep screaming all week until they go home on Friday, only to be replaced by other kids from other places the next week. Oh, summer camp.

Today I am thinking about how American teenagers and children spend their summers so differently in 2008 than they did in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. (Of course, I think a lot about children during the 1800s, given the nature of my research interests). The early-twentieth century marked the beginning of summer camps as the scouting movement formed under people like Daniel Carter Beard. For working class kids during that period, however, summer meant time to work on their family’s farm or to find a job that would contribute to the family’s income.

In 1906 fifteen-year-old Halcy Tomlinson got a job working at the Woolen Mill in Cleveland, Tennessee. She was very excited about the prospect of making money and being able to buy some things for herself. Halcy and her sister Iris Marea and brother Homer planned to save up their earnings to buy their family a rug for their front room. Like modern teenagers, Halcy liked staying up late, going to events, and buying clothes. Here are her journal entries from May 29 and June 4, 1906.

“May 29, 1906, Halcy Tomlinson”

“Several things have occurred since I last wrote in my journal. I am working in the Woolen Mills - have been working over a week - and I think I will like it all right after I learn, if I ever do. They say I am getting along very well, but I honestly believe I did worse today than I ever did. Now then I guess I will get rich. They tease me about it just because they know I won’t make very much. But I don’t care. A little is better than none.

“This evening had I been home I think I would have taken a big cry. I felt like it, and it was awful hard to keep from crying anyway, because it seemed just like everything went wrong. But I don’t aim for Mamma to know how bad and how tired I feel and what a bad time I had, because I am afraid she will worry about me when there is no use. I have been feeling so bad lately any way because I have had to be up so late at night. Mr. Murphy, one of our neighbors and a dear friend also, died last Saturday night, and I have been sitting up there and going to meeting when I didn’t have to sit up. There is a lady preacher, Mrs. McCanless, preaching here now and she is certainly a fine preacher, no mistake. I didn’t get to go tonight. I had to stay home and go to bed, for if I work I will have to sleep some. If I keep on writing I think it will be some time in the night before I get to bed. Good night…dear old Journal!

” June 4, 1906, Halcy Tomlinson

“This evening was pay evening at the mill, and my part was $5.00 for two weeks. Now “hain’t” I making money? I got me a hat which cost $2.00, and Papa is going to get me a pair of slippers tomorrow or some day this week. I don’t know just what they will cost. Anyway I won’t have much left. My, how people can spend money!

“Mamma and Homer are gone to the country to stay a little while and it does seem so lonesome without them. Mrs. Murphy, the lady whose husband died last week, is keeping house for us while Mamma is away. She is a dear good woman. Papa is gone to meeting. He wouldn’t let me go again tonight, because he said I needed to go to sleep. And I guess I do for I have been up a great deal since I last wrote, nearly every night.

“Sister McCanless has gone with Mamma and Brother to the country. There are just four of us here now and it seems like a small number, for there have been seven in the family for over a week. I will be glad when Mamma comes. She just went off today.”