Anne Frank in the World, 1929 - 1945 Teacher Workbook
The pages of a diary can hold secrets. They can record a trip to a new place or an adventure with an old friend. They can be filled up with ordinary things, like what you ate for breakfast or how much the movie costs. They can tell you about yourself - or someone else. They might be made by thousands of people or only one. A diary can be big or little, fancy or plain, long or short, old or new.
Diaries are private books, but sometimes people are willing to share them. They offer a glimpse of what something or someone was really like, without being fixed up or made to sound pretty. If you don't know the writer, reading a diary can be like reading a mystery. Because diaries aren't written for other people to read, characters aren't introduced but just appear with no explanation. You get to figure out who's who and what's what.
Looking through a diary is a little like meeting the person who wrote it, at least for a few minutes. In a history book, the author writes about what other people did. But in a diary, you get to hear the story first-hand. Of course, diaries aren't always as well organized or as easy to find as history books, but they're worth looking for.
The following three excerpts are from the North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, a publication of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
When I Was A Little Girl: Things
I Remember From Living at Frontier Military Posts
told by Martha Gray Wales
"Some time in the fall of 1856 my young parents brought me to Dakota Territory: where my father, Dr. Gray, was ordered for a tour of duty [...]
For me, things about me seemed to take shape in relation to one another. I became conscious of the landscape. My father had bought a little pair of Indian ponies, had them broken to harness, and with a light spring wagon we had grand drives over the prairies. I remember in particular one day his coming in and saying, "Put on your things. The prairie flowers are out." And so they were. It was a beautiful morning after just the right amount of rain. The short grass had grown green and the lovely little things were holding up their heads. I jumped down from the wagon and stood looking at them. I recall blue and yellow flowers, but no red ones. We drove to the Indian agency at Fort Berthold, perhaps to see a sick person. There was quite a collection of teepees, women, men, and children with their little bows and clay toys, and the women held up eggs to sell. I began to learn Indian names. I used a sort of chant, Minneconjou, Brule, Black Feet, Uncpapa, Mandans, Arikaras. But Arikaras are best."[...]
One of our trips to the agency came near being disaster. We had to drive across the river on the ice, which had been safe up to that time, so we started over the usual trail. Suddenly the ice gave way, the ponies plunged, the seat slid back, and I was under water, lying on a sandbar. I remember perfectly thinking. "Papa will find me, I must lie still." I suppose it was only a moment or two before he reached for me and caught me by my little apron. But this gave way and I sank again. He reached again and this time he caught me by my coat and pulled me to the surface, very frightened and chattering with cold. Captain Hooten had caught the horses. My father wrapped me in his coat and we drove home where I was wrapped in hot blankets and was soon myself again."
[Originally published in "When I Was A Little Girl: Things I Remember from Living at Frontier Military Posts." by Martha Gray Wales, In North Dakota History, Vol.50, No. 2, 1983.]
Memoir of a Country Schoolteacher: Dolly Holliday Meets the Ethnic West, 1919-1920
In the fail of 1919, Dolly Holliday, an idealistic seventeen - year - old from Indiana, arrived in Mandan, North Dakota, eager to assume her duties as a western schoolmarm. [...] While she loved the children she taught and believed she provided them with a taste of a softer, less utilitarian world, she was glad to leave that area when her year was up.[...]
"That little white schoolhouse holds a very tender place in my heart. I really don't know why, because I had more unhappy moments that year than in any other of my teaching experiences. I was terribly homesick. I was lonely for companionship. The only people I had to talk to besides my pupils were the ones where I stayed. We had little in common to talk about, and there was the language barrier besides. I knew that few of the school patrons wanted me there. They had never had a teacher who stayed the year out, and some of them tried to make sure that I did not.
But my little school, with between twenty and twenty-five pupils, was my pride and joy. I loved all of them, and I think most of them loved me. We had so little to work with, but we made out.
The first morning, after we had introduced ourselves and I had thoroughly disgraced myself by being unable to spell some of their names as I entered them in the register, I suggested we start the day with a few songs. To my amazement, the only songs they knew were the ones they had learned at home which were sung in the parent's mother tongue. They said that they had never sung at school. They didn't even know our national anthem or "America the Beautiful." I asked them to sing for me, and their voices were sweet and clear. Also, I found they had a strong feeling for rhythm.
I knew, some way, I had to introduce singing into the school. I knew there was no need to go to the school board for song books since they had no money even for more textbooks. The farmers had suffered some bad years. There had been several dry years when their crops were small, and there was very little demand for what they did have. There just wasn't any money. It put a strain on their budget to pay my meager salary.
In The Normal Instructor, a magazine that most teachers subscribed to, was an ad for paperback song books. I think the title was The Golden Book of Favorite Songs. There were patriotic songs, Christmas carols, and many other favorites. I think they were twenty-five cents each. When I got my first paycheck, I sent for one for every two children in the room. After the music session, I would gather them up so that they would not be mutilated or lost.
And then we sang! How we did sing! My students loved it and there was hardly a sour note in the whole room. By Christmas they were singing part songs and harmonizing and they loved it. It just came naturally to them. I did not try to teach them to read notes. I didn't think, in that community, it would serve any purpose, and there was so much to be taught.
[Originally published n Memoir of a Country Schoolteacher: Dolly Holliday Meets the Ethnic West, 1919 - 1920." by Dolly Holliday Clark in North Dakota History, Vol. 59, No. 1, 1992]
The Enchanted Years on the Prairies
Memoirs of the homesteading era in North Dakota usually recall the period from an adult's point of view. Many of those who came to live on the prairies, however saw things from an entirely different perspective, and Irene Enid Bern pays homage to the unique experience that homesteading offered to a child. For her and for many others, these were the "enchanted years on the prairies." [...]
"We had been fortunate in River Falls to attend an excellent up-to-date school. Teachers were excellent and pupils received well-rounded cultural instruction. The imaginations of the children were stimulated and their outlooks greatly broadened due to the various approaches to the subject matter taken by the teachers. We learned to read by the phonics method, which was quite new at that time. I lost considerable respect for the country school because the children learned to read by the ABC method and from charts. I felt sorry for the beginners who had nothing to do when not receiving dull instruction. They spent their time looking at a primer until they were sent out early to play. Remembering my own exciting first and second grades, I yearned to be in the teacher's place to teach those beginners.
The three R's were pretty much the type of subject matter throughout the grades, although there was cut and dried book work in physiology, geography, history, and language. A great deal of instruction was given in arithmetic, and I developed a great respect for the school in that area.
We had a fine group of pupils: The Hopwoods, Claggetts, Littles, Kleinjans, Yates, Wehsners, Harveys, and Heiers (former teacher), besides ourselves. There was practically never a discipline problem or trouble of any kind, and the children were always friendly and congenial. The games played at noon and recess were different from those we had played before, but we enjoyed them. "Anti Over" was a favorite; "Wolf" was another in which the porch was the goal and anyone venturing off base was tagged, if possible, and became another "wolf." Baseball was the most popular when weather permitted It. When it was stormy outside, the teacher must have been driven to distraction. Pupils shot erasers back and forth on the chalk trays, and games played at the blackboards filled the room with dust. Sometimes the seats were shoved aside and 'Tenpins' was played, using pencil boxes set on end to serve as pins.
Much as I liked these games, I missed the ones we had played in River Falls; jacks, hopscotch, rope jumping, to name a few. The boys walked on stilts, played marbles and football, flew kites, had sling-shots and rolled hoops. Children on the prairies had no interest in those types of play. One form of amusement that did catch on for awhile in the country school consisted of rolling a small wheel mounted on an axle attached to a stick, but this was soon dropped and forgotten.
I should not fail to mention another popular game, one much rougher than rolling a wheel. "Shinny" was a game in which each youngster was armed with a heavy stick or club. Players stood, spaced slightly apart, in a circle; in front of each was a hollowed out spot in the ground. No one could steal his spot as long as the end of his club remained in It. A hollowed out spot was also made in the center of the circle. The object of the one who was "It" was to try to knock a tin can into the hollowed out spot in the center while the others tried to keep it out. "It" could steal a spot; then the loser became "It." The game became lively when people tried stealing spots. Swinging clubs and a flying can knocked full of sharp corners during the progress of the game frequently landed on shins or in faces. It was a dangerous game, to say the least, but that did not deter us from playing"
[Originally published - "The Enchanted Years an the Prairies," by Enid Bun In North Dakota History, Vol 40, No 4,1993.]
To The Teacher
Most diaries record the events in the life of a person. They're a reliable way to learn the histories of ordinary people, individuals who go without notice in most history books. Sometimes ordinary places and groups like your school - are overlooked in history, too. Your class could begin a school diary, to be kept year after year by one of the classes in your building.
Find out what records are presently kept by your school. Decide what information your class should add to those records: a daily or weekly written diary entry; a video portrait of special events; the names of all students and teachers; audio recordings of your school band, chorus, or greetings from teachers and students. Ask the school librarian for a special place on the shelves for the diary. Make a display of the year's diary entries in the spring of each year.
County historical societies often have a collection of diaries. Ask someone from the society to visit your classroom and bring some of the diaries from their collection for your students to examine.