Dec. 20-26, 1918

Dec. 20

Got breakfast. Mother was home at noon. Had a Xmas box at school. mailed packages, went to choir practice at Plates. got home at 11.

Dec. 21

Done the sat. work. Went uptown in the storm and had to wade thru snow. made Xmas presents. Read, took a bath and went to bed at 9:30.

Dec. 22

Got up at 9. Went to S.S. and had an awful time going through snow banks. had dinner at 3. Edgar came at 5. opened my book that Ruth gave me Fri. and started reading it to the bunch. went to bed at 12.

Dec. 23

worked on Xmas presents. went to practice with the little kids, had dinner at Sheldon’s, sewed candy bags at William’s, got supper, went back and finished making bags and filled them, got them at 11.

Dec. 24

Made candy, cleaned up the house, went over town, got home about dark. got ready to go to the Xmas tree. The program was nice but not swell. I played. got 2 presents at the tree and a bag of candy. Azel brought my cedar chest up tonight and its just swell. Edgar came about 9. Read some more of “Once to Every Man”. Edgar gave me the dearest, sweetest, cutest little wrist watch. went to bed at 12:30.

Dec. 25

Merry Xmas! Got up at 7, opened all my packages, got 7 hand painted dishes, a silver spoon, stationary, photo of Florence, perfume, handkf, dresser scarf, table cloth, and the book. chest and watch which I opened before Xmas, wrote a letter to Lake, Edgar came after me in the sled, had dinner at Wms about 2. Had an awful time keeping from under the mistletoe, it was my lot to kiss Billy twice, played cards, went down to Basils, played the Edison, got sleepy so slept about an hour – awful girl. Felt fine, had lunch about 11. Started home 12:30. Billy tried to kiss me good-nite. Brot Floss, Gerald, Margie and Russa up with us. Edgar, Russa, and Margie tipped over just as they went out the gate, some excitement, went to bed at 1.

Dec. 26

Washed and didn’t feel like it at all. Went up town and got a swell box of candy from Lake Barber. seen Harriet’s new diamond, whatever will become of all us. went to bed early.


It’s Christmas time! And looks like they have a white Christmas in South Dakota in 1918. On the last day of school, Clara got a Christmas Box, traditionally a decorated box filled with small gifts before going over to the Plate’s house for choir practice. In 1918, Herman Plate and his wife Isabel and their four children (ages 1-9) moved to Cresbard from Wisconsin where he opened and operated a general store.

Clara spend much of the week preparing for Christmas – she makes presents, sews candy bags and makes candy. I would love to know what kind of presents she made.

Cover of 1913 edition with Larry Evans’s serialized book.

She also spends a lot of time socializing. Ruth gives her a book to read, probably Once to Every Man, published in 1914 by Larry Evans, the one she mentions reading later this week. Described as a romance of New York society, it initially was serialized in 1913 in the Metropolitan Magazine.

I’m not sure who this Ruth is. It appears that there were quite a few Ruths in Cresbard at this time. But it could be Ruth Stoddard. I only guess this because the Stoddards were a huge family in town – he and his wife had nine children, one of whom died in under a year. Ruth Stoddard’s father George came to South Dakota as an original homesteader in the 1880s around the same time George Horen, Clara’s dad, arrived. And he owned a general store in Faulkton. 

Table of Contents with Once to Every Man listed

However, this Ruth is about eight years older than Clara, and she had three children of her own at this time. So I am not quite convinced that this is the correct Ruth. I also am not sure who the Sheldons are either. I’ll keep searching though!

I am going to guess that when she goes to the Williams and sews candy bags that she may very well be at Edgar’s house. There is no other mention of any William as a first name in her journal, but she does spend time with the Williams family throughout this time. And remember, Edgar is her boyfriend.

Christmas Eve is a busy day, as it usually is for me as well. After making yet more candy, she is ready to go to the Christmas tree and the program. Throughout her journal, I have noticed that s lot of things are described as “swell.” Here, she states that the program was “nice but not swell.” 

Inez Clifford (Crazy Shaw)

I guess it was good, but not that good!

In the previous installment, I mentioned that my uncle Keith wrote about Crazy Shaw, the music teacher, who organized some pretty sophisticated productions in rural South Dakota in the early 1900s. He also wrote of the Christmas pageants, which must have been similar to the Christmas program Clara attended on Christmas Eve, which she describes as “nice, but not swell.”

Here is what Uncle Keith had to say about the Christmas pageants in Cresbard in the early 1920s:

Then we did pageants, a Christmas pageant, that had all kinds of parts and all kinds of skits. I got terribly embarrassed when I was probably no more than six. A boy had to go to bed with his sister and have the Christmas dream. So they put me in bed with some little six-year-old girl on stage, and we were supposed to sleep and dream about Santa Claus coming and the elves and the reindeers and the angels and all that sort of thing. Of course, the older kids made a big thing of the fact that we were in bed together, which we didn’t know what that meant. But I’m still living with it because when we went to the bicentennial in ’76 I think that’s what people, some people at least, they remembered me as the person who had gone to bed with a girl at a Christmas pageant. 

This makes me laugh. First, that as an adult, he still remembered that incident when he was six-years-old. And second, kids always have and always will taunt each other.

And in the tradition of opening a present (or two) on Christmas Eve, Clara is given the cedar chest that her mother ordered on November 19, which is a hope chest that young unmarried women used to store linens and clothes for after they got married. The good news is that the cedar chest, according to Clara, is “just swell.” And Edgar did a great job with his gift of a wrist watch.

The next morning, Clara provides a list of all of her gifts. Honestly, she got quite a few gifts! And she had quite a packed day. It seems like she is all over town. 

Some of these people have been discussed in earlier installments.

Florence, for example, was a friend of Clara’s who moved to New York. Perhaps she sent a photo of herself to Clara. She writes a letter to Lake Barbar and receives a “swell” box of candy from him. This is her brother Azel’s roommate at college (I assume he is at college). Of the group hanging out, we have already discussed Floss (Clara’s younger sister), Gerald (last name Pershing, Edgar’s good friend).

Some people we haven’t met include Basil, who is Edgar’s older brother who had been married for a couple of years. Margie MacGregor and Russa Osborne, who were close in age to Floss. Nine years later, Margie and Russa married and eventually had two children in South Dakota.

Early Edison from the time period

Something about reading this Christmas Day entry makes me smile. Clara has been so emotionless during this journal. And I would say that this entry is pretty dispassionate as well. But for some reason, I can feel the fun, raucous silliness of the night. I picture Clara unknowingly passing under the mistletoe yet again, as she is distracted by bouncing around and socializing. And I can picture Billy so proud of himself for catching her yet again. They are playing cards. They are playing music on the Edison. Clara can’t even keep up and ends up napping for an hour! But probably my favorite is when Edgar, Russa, and Margie tip over as they leave. And her reaction: “some excitement.” It makes me laugh, and truthfully, it doesn’t sound all that different from Christmases with family when my kids were younger.

The next morning, Clara didn’t feel like washing. I get that. I rarely feel like doing much of anything the day after Christmas. And it looks like her best friend Harriet got engaged on Christmas. Her wedding to Willis Stone would take place in six months.

Even though DeBeers is usually credited with creating the popularity of diamond engagement rings in 1947, people were giving diamond rings long before. A simple search for early 1900 diamond engagement rings reveals many vintage rings. 

Clara’s response to seeing Harriet’s diamond is “whatever will become of all us.” I wonder what she means by that… 

../photos/9/xmasjewelry.jpg
Diamond ring ad from 1917

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