State Historic Site

Trail End

Playtime


Since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, both writers and advertisers have emphasized that "The Family that Plays Together, Stays Together." Towards that end, most middle and upper class households attempted to create spaces within the home - or immediately adjacent to it - where both children and adults could amuse themselves. In The New Century Home Book (1900), Frank De Puy stated:


In the best and happiest homes, games and pastimes have their place. There can be no doubt that men and women are helped to happier and better lives by home amusements. The children who are permitted and encouraged to enjoy healthful and innocent games at home cling closer to their homes.



THE PLAYROOM


Among working class families of the early 20th Century, children were often sent to play in the streets so as not to disturb their fathers’ rest. In homes like Trail End, however, children were encouraged to play at home as much as possible. Towards that end, Trail End’s third floor was originally designed as a playroom for Rosa-Maye and Manville. After recalling one of her own experiences as a child, Eula Kendrick was probably very much in favor of a special space for her children:


I remember as children our fear of Uncle Dudley Snyder – the oldest half-brother of my father. When we many children became too noisy he would look over his glasses and say, “Tut-tut, children – that’s enough,” at which all of us would scamper to other parts of their big house to take up our arguments and noisy play.


The idea to give children a specific place to play indoors was not a new idea in the 1900s, but instead of bare, empty spaces where youngsters could romp without fear of breaking anything, parents were suddenly encouraged to create stimulating environments full of activities in which children could explore and use their imagination. In 1899, the Ladies’ Home Journal described the ideal playroom as being located on the top floor of the house with plenty of natural light and the following amenities:


  • A sandbox
  • A full-sized tent
  • A small pond with water (on which to sail toy boats)
  • A small dirt garden for growing real flowers and vegetables
  • A swing
  • An aquarium
  • A croquet set
  • A marble course which circled the room and ended in the sandbox
  • Upholstered nooks in which to curl up and read
  • Wall space to display children’s artwork


A playroom containing all of the above might not have ever existed (especially with the large amounts of dirt, water, and sand being suggested for the top floor of a house!), but the point was made: whether large or small, attic or basement – children needed a creative space all their own.



ROOM FOR ROMPING


Physical health, of course, was (and is) paramount in the development of the child. As Wilma Sullivan stated in an article in The Delineator in 1904, it was easier to train a child to good physical form than it was an older person:


The child is like wax, pliable and easily moulded into beautiful form. Later the body becomes like marble and must be chiseled into shape. With love and knowledge of what to do, the plastic form of the child can be made a thing of beauty and endowed with the most perfect health. The limbs can be made supple and strong, the lungs developed to their perfect capacity, the heart strengthened, the muscles rounded, the carriage made erect, and all the bodily functions improved with a corresponding effect upon the mental nature of the child.


In the 1920s, when more and more people started moving to suburbia, the back yard became the place to romp and play whenever possible (while the indoor playroom was still important, it became more a place for projects and reading rather than physical play). As child psychologist Gladys Denny Shultz noted,


The following things are absolutely essential and indispensable if your house is to be a home for children: At a very minimum, there must be a yard where they can play freely. They must be able to make noise ... they must have plenty of room for strenuous exercise; they must have a place to build and contrive. ... a great big yard with climbable trees, space for a children's garden and for pets, for swings, playhouse and such equipment as the parents can afford.


During their years at the OW Ranch, both Manville and Rosa-Maye Kendrick had plenty of physical exercise. According to Eula Kendrick, they studied in the morning, then explored the outdoors after lunch:


The afternoons were given over to long horseback rides ... If it was summer, they would go for a swim in a not-too-deep hole in Hanging Woman, the little creek that wiggled along circuitously from the divide. ... In the early evening, too, they often went shooting for prairie dogs ... or skating in the winter.


When Manville and Diana Kendrick lived at Trail End with their children, they wanted both indoor and outdoor space for play. To accommodate rainy and snowy days, they enclosed the west balcony and turned it into a playroom for their boys. Outdoors, the young fellows kept what their father referred to as a "boars-nest of an Indian Camp" in the back yard.



TOYS & GAMES


In the 1800s, toys and games usually emphasized educational or spiritual values over simple enjoyment. Carpentry sets and wooden animals instructed boys in farm and manual skills, while dolls and tea sets taught girls grace and etiquette. While there were some gender-neutral toys such as alphabet blocks and teddy bears, most toys were geared toward either boys or girls: in the 1920s, for example, science and technology toys such as power tools and chemistry sets were designed to interest boys in those fields of endeavor, while dollhouses and miniature appliances were intended to introduce girls to their roles as housewives and mothers.


Speaking of teddy bears, incidentally, they were first introduced in 1903. Named for Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, the stuffed toy was immensely popular around 1906. Interest died off for awhile, but in 1926, the publication of A. A. Milne's first Winnie the Pooh book made the stuffed bear popular once again.


In the mid-1800s, board games became popular for both sexes, with Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers among the leading manufacturers. These games tended to be quite structured and were frequently geared toward social advancement. Gradually, board games shifted their focus by introducing different strategies for winning. As one author noted, "The winners of these new games were no longer the most pious players who had accumulated the greatest joy in the next world, but they were more often the shrewdest players who had accumulated the most money." Think 1904’s The Landlord’s Game as opposed to 1843’s Mansions of Happiness!


Rosa-Maye and Manville liked board games, particularly checkers. Though they played every night, Rosa-Maye had some concerns that her mother might not appreciate them playing such a game on the Sabbath. “We play checkers every night,” she wrote to Eula in 1911. “Do you disapprove of it on Sunday? If you don’t want us to, why, let us know.”


Playing cards had been around since the Tenth Century. Because each card had to be hand-painted (mass production didn't occur until the 1400s), their use was restricted to the very wealthy. By the early 1800s, when American companies began manufacturing playing cards, there were many card games to choose from, including some we've heard of today - whist, cribbage, piquet, patience (solitaire) and poker - plus a few that have gone by the wayside, such as Gleek, Noddy, Pope Joan and Losing Lodam.


While cards were a favorite among adults, their use by children was somewhat discouraged. Even though playing cards helped children learn to count, most card games were considered to be too much like gambling. A few games, however - Crazy Eights, Concentration and Old Maid - were allowed.


After the turn of the 20th Century, imagination and fantasy became accepted as harmless pleasures. According to author Frank De Puy in his book, New Century Home Book of 1900, parents were encouraged to play along with their offspring’s imaginative games: "Parents are better for joining in their children’s games and pastimes. It lightens their cares; helps to keep their brains clear for the larger duties of life; aids in warding off physical and mental ills; tends to keep them young in their old age."


More importantly, playing with their children allowed parents to keep a better eye on them. If “healthful and innocent games” were played at home, De Puy stated, children would not be “tempted to go elsewhere for the amusement for which Nature has given them the desire.” Every family was encouraged to invest in a billiard table, for example, just to keep the son from heading out to the nearest pool hall, which would naturally lead the boy to drink and destruction.


As is the case today, some parents in the 1920s put a lot of thought – and placed a great deal of faith as well – into the toys played with by their children. They were so afraid of doing the wrong thing, such as giving the wrong toy to their baby. Should a boy play with dolls? Was jumping rope dangerous to girls? What’s wrong with the child if he or she plays with the box instead of the gift that came inside? How many toys are too many? All these questions were asked of child psychologist Gladys Denny Schultz, who wrote on children’s issues for Better Homes & Gardens Magazine. While a great deal of her printed word dealt with sibling rivalry issues, curing the “nervous” child, and teaching the best way to discipline a spoiled child, she did address the issue of play and its importance in the development of a “whole” child:


Toys build character. The rattle you place in the tiny baby’s fist contributes to his physical and mental development. And from then on his playthings are perhaps the greatest single factor – aside from health and parental care – in forming good or bad traits of character. You can spoil a child hopelessly or develop him in many desirable ways according to the toys you give him. Toys that are wisely chosen and used teach your children orderliness, thrift, the habit of keeping wholesomely busy, purposive thinking and concentration, cooperation with others, and will increase the imaginative and creative ability. The mechanical toy that does everything itself, the child’s only function being that of audience, is bad because it encourages the tendency to demand outside entertainment rather than to make one’s own pleasure.

Youngsters to be Proud Of

The Changing Nature of Childhood

 Rosa-Maye & Manville Kendrick (AHC Kendrick Collection, TESHS)

 Rosa-Maye Kendrick (Harmon Collection, TESHS)

A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site

March 2008 - December 2008