Hey Victorian Kids!

What did you do?

in school

at work

at play

Emma Jane Arnold narrates via the Earl J. Arnold Advertising Card Collection - 1885 -- with a little help from her great- grandson, Jeffrey Arnold Diver

updated 26 November 2018

We are time traveling, exploring the world just one generation after the military operations of the American Civil War ceased. Peacefully for some and less so for others, of course, the War itself continues. The War did not completely eliminate American Constitutional legal provisions for a population divided between free citizens fully capable of exercising all human rights and those whose rights could be compromised by circumstances of birth. Slaves were freed, but women did not have the right to vote. In some American states, the descendants of slaves, indigenous peoples, sexual minorities and recent immigrants do not enjoy that right today.

Kids, we are told, are adaptable. Since fewer children were literally running for their lives immediately after the War, many had time for other activities. How did families and children adjust? What did they make of their present and what were their aspirations?

The Arnold Collection is a book of dreams--both kid's dreams and the dreams adults had for them. Time to share them with you!

We had a few quiet moments and daydreamed, transporting ourselves away from our current circumstances. Adults often interrupted these excursions, just as they do today. We may have looked bored. We were not.

Though we did not fully understand what was going on at the time, our expectations were shaped by our social environment. In our good dreams, we might imagine splendid horses and fast carriage rides or just a great meal. Some of us contemplated buying a sewing machine, others of buying a sewing machine factory. People didn't have to tell us these things. We absorbed our environment along with the social outlook of our very separate communities.


On page 32 and page 180 of the Arnold Collection are examples of trade card rewards given out by teachers for excellence in schoolwork. Before the lithographic printing process was invented, color was not readily available to the general public except in paintings. Walter Arnold (Earl J. Arnold's older brother) must have been very proud to have earned such a prize for his achievements!

Fishing was a favorite activity if you were lucky enough to live near the water and maybe get out of chores.

Would you like to hear about our biggest catch? Nah! You'd never believe it!

Usually, it wasn't too long before someone we knew rather well summoned us away from these activities. Hmm... the lungs of an opera singer, perhaps? Our ears might have been ringing, but our stomachs were soon full.

As in all lives, magic moments were often connected with special souls. We learned how to care for domestic animals.

Different worlds were bound by shared experiences, such as this reinvigorating exploration along the beach. We didn't always need to share or even to understand the perspectives of our companions. We simply enjoyed their loving companionship.

Many more of us lived the country life in the 1890s than do now. In fact, in those days there were many fewer humans anywhere than there are now. The cities, even the big ones, were never very far from the country and they looked a lot less urban. Horses and chickens were everywhere--and some donkeys, too.

A great number of us knew how to ride horseback and we spent many hours riding. The world was ours to explore!

My! Did we know how to make a racket when we wanted to!

The results?

Not always


Some of our noises, however

were welcomed...

After much practice, even the dog

could stand to be in the same room...

most of the time.

Soccer and other ball games were enjoyed by all. Not all of us were as well-dressed as the kids shown here. But that didn't interfere with our enjoyment. We had fun and got a good deal dirtier than we expected. This sometimes made our folks cross.

We had our bumps, bruises and mishaps. We wrecked our sleds colliding with tree stumps and others. Adults were usually around to help us make repairs. We healed. And sometimes, but not always, we learned.

Many of us lived on farms or helped tend gardens in the city. Something was always in need of attention. Harvest season in the fall was a lot of work, but it brought us special rewards. (By the way, the ears of corn, like the snow drifts, were not bigger in those days. They just seemed that way because we were smaller.)

We waited behind trees to ambush our siblings, then went inside and teased the cat.

Summer was a time of adventure. Lucky kids had bikes for a bumpy ride on our rutty dirt roads. The rest of us went out to gather flowers or perhaps to go forth on some patriotic adventure.

We made music. Of a sort. If our home did not have a piano or a reed organ, we improvised with other instruments. As there was no way to record our efforts, you'll just have to imagine what wonderful sounds we made! Our "music" pleased us greatly, though we may have frightened or annoyed some audiences.

Yes, we did get sick. Our parents bought all sorts of patent medicines in an attempt to cure us. Very few did any good. Some contained alcohol or other dangerous drugs, but mom and dad didn't know this, because there was no requirement yet that such ingredients had to be listed on the fancy bottles in which medications were sold.

Fortunately, a few of us survived in spite of our medications and went on to enjoy peaceful, healthy sleep interrupted only by the family dog.

We learned how to take care of each other while we played.

Croquet, then tea. How lucky are we!

But the best time of all was time we spent with our folks.