“I Want to Join Your Club”
Letters from Rural Children, 1900-1920
Publication Year: 1996
“I am a girl, 13 years old, and a proper broncho buster. I can cook and do housework, but I just love to ride.”
In letters written to the children’s pages of newspapers, we hear the clear and authentic voices of real children who lived in rural Canada and Newfoundland between 1900 and 1920. Children tell us about their families, their schools, jobs and communities and the suffering caused by the terrible costs of World War I.
We read of shared common experiences of isolation, hard work, few amenities, limited educational opportunities, restricted social life and heavy responsibilities, but also of satisfaction over skills mastered and work performed. Though often hard, children’s lives reflected a hopeful and expanding future, and their letters recount their skills and determination as well as family lore and community histories.
Children both make and participate in history, but until recently their role has been largely ignored. In “I Want to Join Your Club,” Lewis provides direct evidence that children’s lives, like adults’, have both continuity and change and form part of the warp and woof of the social fabric.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
Many historians have shared the common but injudicious assumption that growing up is a universal process, changing little in its essentials from earliest times to the present. In fact, of course, how we grow up is as much a matter of where and when we lived as is any other human process. We know that children's lives, like those of all...
Acknowledgments [Includes Image Plate]
I am grateful to Neil Sutherland and Jean Barman for their helpful suggestions and sage advice, to Linda Hale for her encouragement and to Sharon Olding and Joyce McLean for their close reading of the letters. A most sincere thank you to my husband, Rolland Lewis, for his help and patience with this project and to Sandra Woolfrey for her...
Introduction [Includes Image Plates]
Children both make and participate in history. Until recently, however, their role has been largely ignored by historians. Influenced by the social sciences, historians began in the 1960s and 1970s to analyze the social dimensions of the past, and to look at the history of...
"We Were Nine Days Coming Out": By Ship, by Train by Wagon [Includes Image Plates]
Immigrants poured in from Great Britain, continental Europe, the United States, and Asia. Migrants moved from one region to another and from rural areas to developing industrial centres. Both immigrants and migrants were filled with hope for a better life than the one they left behind....
"I Have Two Sisters and a Brother": Family and Community Life [Includes Image Plates]
The rural family was both a biological unit and a work unit with each member making his or her contribution to the family economy. Family ties were important as families were often isolated from neighbours by distance and, in some cases, by culture and language. The death, illness, or desertion of a parent...
"We Have No School Here": Education and Schooling [Includes Image Plates]
The school was the heart of the rural community. It served as learning centre, sports centre, and social centre. There children were taught to read, write, compute, to sing patriotic songs, and to honour king, country, and Anglo-Canadian values. They were also taught practical skills of sewing, manual training, and...
"I Have a Pony": Children and Their Pets [Includes Image Plates]
Pets were important companions to lonely rural children. They played with them, romped with them, talked to them, and showered affection upon them. As with family members, pets were expected to contribute to family life and family income. Dogs helped handle cattle, cats caught mice, ponies and horses...
"I Want to Tell You of the Fun We Had Today": Games, Hobbies, Clubs, and Community Events [Includes Image Plates]
Rural children worked hard, but they also played hard. With a minimum of materials and considerable enthusiasm and ingenuity, children created an array of toys, games, and activities. A growing number of children's groups and clubs not only taught members a code of behaviour, but also stimulated physical,...
"I Have Been Trapping This Year": Hunting, Trapping, and Fishing [Includes Image Plates]
What more could an adventurous rural youngster desire than a fishhook and a line, a rifle, and a few traps! Wildlife abounded in nearby streams, woods, and fields. It was there for the taking. But fishing, hunting, and trapping were more than sport. Youngsters augmented family larders with the fish they caught, the...
"My Father Is Both Fisherman and Farmer": Occupations and Vocations [Includes Image Plates]
Families living in rural areas were engaged in a variety of occupations, including fishing, farming, sealing, trapping, tending lighthouses, logging, and mining. Others were employed in the construction and operation of expanding rail and road systems and in the building of growing urban centres. Children were...
"I Shall Be a Farmer": Life and Work on the Farm and Ranch [Includes Image Plates]
The operation of farms and ranches engaged the entire family in a daily round of chores and a cycle of seasonal work and activities. Preparation of the land, seeding, harvesting, and the care of livestock were generally the responsibility of males. Managing the house, raising poultry, tending gardens, separating milk,...
"A Story That Is a Little Tragic": Drama, Trauma, and Childhood Adventures [Includes Image Plates]
Life in rural areas could be difficult if not tenuous, yet children appeared to accept accidents, illness, adventures, and misadventures as a normal part of life. Children experienced nature at its worst in cyclones, blizzards, prairie and forest fires, and at its best during their rambles across fields, through woods, and...
"My Father Has Enlisted": Children and the First World War [Includes Image Plates]
Although Canadian and Newfoundland children were far from the war zone, war touched and shaped their lives and their attitudes. In 1914, they, like many adults, were swept up in the patriotic fervour of the time. They were anxious to do their part and ready to sacrifice time and energy, if not their very lives, for...
"I Worked in a Pulp-Mill": Part of the Work Force
By age twelve to fourteen many youngsters were doing adult work and carrying adult responsibilities. Boys frequently followed their fathers' vocations as farmers, fisherman, or railway workers. Girls generally emulated their mothers as homemakers or domestics. Other youngsters however, whether from...