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A Day in the Life of the McMurphey Children
Adah: Hello, my name is Adah. My mother was Alberta Shelton McMurphey.
Her father, Dr. Shelton, had this house built in 1888. When my grandfather died,
Mother married Robert McMurphey and they lived in this house. They had 6
children. My brothers and sisters names are Lylah, George, Elsie, Robert, and Lois.
We will be telling you about growing up in this house.
Let me introduce my sister Lois.
Lois: Hello, my name is Lois. I am the oldest daughter. The year is 1910. William
Howard Taft is the President of the United States. There are only 46 stars on the
American Flag. Most families have many children. I have 5 brothers and sisters.
Let me introduce my sister Elsie.
Elsie: Almost all of the mothers stay home and take care of their house and the
children. Very few women work outside the home. Until 1912, women don’t have
the right to vote. Some families have servants to do the work. In our family we
don’t have servants. We children help to do the work around the house and outside
in the yard and in the barn.
Let me introduce my brother George.
George: Hello, my name is George. I’m the oldest son. There are no radios or
televisions in our house. They have not been invented yet.
We have electricity in our house, but most people don’t. We have one of only 2
telephones in Eugene. There is only one telephone line in Eugene, so we have to
share it with some other family. That’s called a “party line”. If you pick up the
phone and someone is already talking, you must hang-up and wait until they are
finished. We children never get to speak on the phone, it’s for adults only. If we
want to talk to our friends we must go to their house or see them at school. Adah,
it’s your turn.
Adah: I’m named after my grandmother, Adah. Grandmother doesn’t live with us,
but she visits often from Salem. I want to see if you’ve been listening while my
brother and sisters have been talking to you. I’ll ask questions and you raise your
hand and I’ll call on you to answer me.
What year was the SMJ House built?
Who was President of the United States in 1910?
How many children lived in this house? What was their last name?
Let me introduce my brother Robert.
Robert: Hello, I’m Robert. I’m the second of only 2 boys in this family! I get to
help with the questions: Raise your hand if you know the answers:
How many stars were on the flag in 1910?
How many telephones were there in Eugene in 1910?
Now we’re going to tell you what a typical day was like for us. My little sister
Lylah will start.
Lylah: Hello, I’m Lylah and I’m the baby in the family. I get to tell you about how
we start our day. We have chickens so we can have eggs and chickens to eat.
Every morning the rooster crows to wake us up when the sun comes up. We have
to get up very early because we have chores to do before breakfast. We put on our
work clothes and go outside and do our chores. George, it’s your turn.
George: We have chickens, a cow, and Father’s horse to take care of. We also
have to make sure Mother’s wood box is always full. Sometimes we have to help
with the garden and other work around the yard and in the house. Elsie, you’re
Elsie: When our chores are finished we go upstairs and change into our school
clothes. We each have 3 sets of clothes, one for work and play, one for school and
one for Sunday school. We each have 2 pairs of shoes, one for work, play, and
school and the other for dress-up for Sunday.
Doing laundry is a lot of hard work, so I have to wear my clothes more than one
day. My sisters and I wear pinafores and the boys wear vests to help keep our
clothes clean. Girls always wear dresses even for chores and playtime. Robert, it’s
your turn again.
Robert: After breakfast we go to school. Everybody walks to school unless you’re
really lucky and live far out of town. Then you come to school in a buggy or on
horseback. Our school is a one-room school and we all sit down and do our lessons
at the same time. The teacher can only help one group at a time so the older
children have to help the younger children and help each other.
Lylah: Let’s all go to the dining room where we can share about our day at school.
LEADER will give directions.
Lylah: There are 2 doors at our school. One is for the boys and one is for the girls.
There is no bathroom so we have to use the outhouse. There is a stove in the
middle of the room to keep us warm in winter. The older boys have to bring in
firewood to keep the fire going when it’s cold weather.
There is a blackboard at the front of the room, a map, a globe and pictures of
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are on the wall. There is a flag and we
say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Lois, tell them about the paper.
Lois: In 1910, paper cost a lot of money. We didn’t have paper towels or napkins
or tissues to blow our nose. We each carried a cloth handkerchief for our noses and
we used cloth towels.
Since paper cost so much, we did most of our schoolwork on a slate. A slate looks
like a chalkboard, but it was made out of smooth stone. We wrote with a slate
pencil or chalk.
Only our best work was done on paper and we had to write on every line and both
sides. We wrote in pencil unless it was very important. Then we could use a pen
that we dipped in ink. We studied reading, writing, spelling, geography, history
and arithmetic.
Leader will give directions for school activity.
Elsie: I get to tell you about the rest of our day. When school was over we walked
home and changed back into our work clothes. We put away our school things and
went outside to do the afternoon chores. The cow needed to be milked and the
other animals fed, and watered. Stalls needed to be cleaned. Robert, you’re next.
Robert: George and I would get more firewood from the woodpile for the stove.
Lylah and the rest of the girls would set the table and help get supper ready. When
the chores were finished we could play outside if the weather was good. If the
weather was bad we would sit in the kitchen and do our homework where it was
warm. We could tell Mother about school that day and she could help us as she
cooked. Adah, tell us about eating supper.
Leader will pass out napkins.
Adah: Supper was always at 6:00 when Father came home from work. Our whole
family ate breakfast and dinner together. We had our special place at the table with
a cloth napkin in a napkin ring. You used the napkin to catch spills in your lap and
used the corner to wipe your mouth if you got food on your face. You had to use
this napkin every day so you were careful to keep it clean as possible. We used
very good manners and always remembered to say please and thank you. Mother
and Grandmother scolded us when we forgot.
No one began eating until all were served and no one left the table until all were
finished. Father and Mother would ask us questions about what happened at school
while we ate and we were very careful to never talk with our mouths full.
Leader will collect napkins in center of the table.
Lylah: After supper the girls cleared the table and helped in the kitchen to get the
dishes washed and everything put away. Then we did homework and practiced
piano. Sometimes we helped mother by darning socks or mending clothes. We all
liked to read. The younger children played with their toys.
Father built a fire in the fireplace and sometimes he would slice apples for a snack
or make popcorn over the fire in a wire basket with a long handle. Our best
entertainment was when Mother or Father would read us a chapter from our
favorite book. I will let Lois tell you about Saturday night.
Lois: Saturday night was different. It was bath night. There was a big bathtub in
the bathroom, lined with tin. The tub would hold several small children at once.
Papa would see that we were clean, dried, and gowned in long flannel nightwear
then sent us in to Mother who trimmed nails and brushed hair so we would be
spotless for Sunday School at church the next morning. George gets to tell about
George: We went to bed early because we had to get up so early. Sometimes when
the weather was very cold, we would put bricks in the oven to heat and then wrap
them in a cloth and put them by our feet in bed to keep them warm at night. The
girls slept in one room and the boys slept in another room until the Sleeping Porch
was built. Then the whole family slept in one room with the windows open. That
was the end of a day in the life of the children who grew up in the SMJ House.
Leader will collect nametags and scripts and ask questions about McMurphey