Feb. 2-7, 1919

Feb. 2

Went to church and S.S. storming today, studied, Edgar and Gerald came, went to League and church, had supper after church, took possession of a squeaky chair until 12:30.

Feb. 3

On the current event list this morning. Came home direct from school and helped wash. crocheted, studied, went to bed at 9.

Feb. 4

School calls 15 min. early. no morning recess and 15 min. later at noon and 15 later after 4 to make up an hour each day of what we lost. Harriet and I decided to have a basket together for the social Feb. 6. started to make our basket. got home at 6, got supper, went to cantata practice, went to bed at 12. Edgar thinks he knows a lot about my basket.

Feb. 5

Finished making our basket after school, ironed, got supper, made candy, went to bed at 10.

Feb. 6

Stayed home after dinner until 1:30. Made fruit salad, went up town after school. made sandwiches and potato salad. got ready and went down to Potters at 6:30. Packed our basket. Harriet and I carried some “kids” baskets so the boys wouldn’t know ours. Charles told them though, played games until 9:30. had the programme, sold the baskets. Mahlon Williams and Bert Lawrew got ours. The Baskets brot. $246. some social I say! got home at 12. went to bed at 2.

Feb. 7

not very sleepy. went to school although not a bit inclined to. went up town at noon, seen Edgar, he walked to school with me. We parted at the crossing for a month or so. went up town and after my dishes at Potters, crocheted, went to choir practice, went to bed at 10:30. An old maid now.

I love the little hints at Clara’s sense of humor, like the line “I took possession of a squeaky chair until 12:30.”

And it looks like it’s time to make up for missed school days. From previous journal entries, it appears they missed six weeks of school from an influenza closure. So they are adding an hour to each day. From this, we are finding out that school had been getting out at 4 PM. I’m guessing they previously began the day at 9 AM. An extra hour makes for a long day.

One day, Harriet and Clara “decided to have a basket together,” which I will discuss soon. But that evening they also went to a cantata. As mentioned earlier, Cresbard was a small rural town in South Dakota that put on what might be considered a surprising number of plays and concerts. This cantata was just another example of the entertainment in town.

A canata, according to dictionary.com, is a medium-length narrative piece of music for voices with instrumental accompaniment, typically with solos, chorus, and orchestra. And one of the most famous composers of cantatas is Bach; he actually wrote over 300 of them. Here is an example:

Socials were a popular way to raise money, for a church or sometimes a school or needy family. Money might be spent on salaries for teachers or ministers, supplies, equipment such as an organ in a church, or clothes.

A comedy short from Our Gang – 1933

In the early 1900s, popular socials included a box social or a basket social. Sometimes even an ice cream social. I also read about a mush and milk social from the late 1800’s in the Dakotas. According to wikipedia, “mush is a type of cornmeal pudding (or porridge) which is usually boiled in water or milk. It is often allowed to set, or gel into a semisolid, then cut into flat squares or rectangles, and pan fried. It is customary in the Midwestern United States to eat it with maple syrup or molasses.” 

But this one that Clara attends is decidedly a basket social, which is similar to a box social.  Just substitute out the box for a basket. In a box social, women decorate a cardboard box and then fill it with food for herself and whomever wins it in an auction.

Generally the boxes are anonymous, so the men don’t know which woman belongs to which box, nor what the box contains, the mystery and sometimes humorous results adding to the fun. However, it is not unknown for a young woman to surreptitiously drop hints to a favored man indicating which box is hers, as a way of rigging the results. The bidding involves teasing, joking, and competition.


Harriet and Clara make their own basket to be auctioned off together, and they do their best to keep it a secret so no one will be able to guess which is theirs. Even so, Clara’s boyfriend Edgar teases her that he knows what it looks like. On the day of the social, they make sandwiches and potato salad and then packed their basket. To keep up the ruse, Harriet and Clara carry other kids’ baskets so no one would know which one was theirs.

And in the end, Mahlon Williams and Bert Lawrew won theirs. Mahlon is Edgar’s older brother.

I cannot find any evidence of the surname Lawrew existing, but there is a Bert Lerew who was born, raised, had nine children, and died in Cresbard. Although he was 30 at the time, he was single during this social.

Here is another explanation of a box social:

The premise of the basic box supper was two-fold. First, women were asked to fill a box (or basket) with enough delectable goodies for two people to share as a lunch, then decorate it with elaborate ribbons, bows and doo-dads. The boxes crafted by “single” and “married” women were separated on two tables. “Married” boxes were primarily an excuse for the spoken-for women to peacock in front of other wives.

At the other table, single men would bid on the eligible ladies’ boxes, and the winner of each box would share the snacks inside with the gal who assembled the creation. Box socials (and, eventually, pie suppers) were the ultimate grab-and-go blind date with a feel-good charity kicker. 


This link provides a very detailed narrative of a basket social from a couple of decades later, in the late 1940s, but I can’t imagine they changed all that much.

Clara seems quite pleased with the success of the fundraising side of the social (“that’s some social”). The baskets raised $246, about $4,600 in today’s dollars.

The next day, because they always seem to do these things on school nights, Edgar walks Clara to school. And they “parted at the crossing for a month or so.” I thought that perhaps they broke up. But in later entries, she discusses writing to him in Rochester, MN, so it seems that he left town rather than breaking up. Maybe he is at college? It’s possible, for he is two years older than Clara and Rochester is home to a couple of universities (University of Minnesota, Winona State University…). And perhaps he was home not only for the winter break, but maybe colleges also closed down as a precaution against spreading influenza.After all, Edgar is in Cresbard from the beginning of the break that Clara’s school is on, when this journal begins.

There may not have been the same coordinated effort to shut down all colleges and universities that the Covid-19 pandemic triggered, but in 1918, schools were taking precautions.

Issac Newton

Even before 1918, universities took precautions against the spread of disease. In England during the plague of 1656-1666, Cambridge University closed. Famously, Issac Newton, who was studying there at the time, retreated to the countryside during the shutdown. “Newton proclaimed his plague retreat one of the most productive periods in his career,” for he “developed theories on calculus, gravity, and the laws of motion.” 

In 1918, at Stanford University, everyone, including lecturing professors, was required to wear masks or face being fined. University of Montana held classes outdoors. The University of North Carolina went under quarantine. And Smith College closed down completely.

So Edgar is gone, probably off to college. And his girlfriend stays back home. This story is repeated every year as kids go off to further their educations. And hearts break all along that path. Even for those who promise to stay true during their separation, doing so proves difficult. All Clara knows at this point, is that she has been left behind, and she writes about herself, “An old maid now.” Yep, parting has always been difficult.

One thought on “Feb. 2-7, 1919

  1. This is so cool! I really enjoyed hearing Clara’s voice, and the extra insights and knowledge you add really help bring this time alive.


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