"Representing Me": The Scrapbook of Eleanor Shumway
Earlier this year, the MHS acquired the scrapbook of Eleanor Shumway, a teenager living in Newton, Massachusetts in the early 20th century. We see a lot of scrapbooks here, but this one is unique because Eleanor annotated each page, making the volume a kind of personal diary, as well.
Eleanor Shumway was born in 1895, the second daughter of salesman Harold H. Shumway and Amy Louise (Moors) Shumway. She had two sisters, Marjorie and Helen. One hundred years ago, when she kept this scrapbook, Eleanor was a student at Newton High School. She attended parties, dances, and concerts; participated in school sports; and gushed about her favorite actors and actresses. Pasted carefully to each page are ticket stubs, programs, invitations, party favors, dance cards, postcards, photographs, newspaper clippings, etc., mostly dating from 1908-1915. The volume also contains some original pencil sketches, including “Works of Art. Representing me.” And next to each item is a handwritten note by Eleanor describing her activities in detail.
Eleanor wrote about popular party games, like Winkums, Drop the Handkerchief, Hearts, and something called Buzz. She and her friends also played cards, bean bag games, and guessing games; ducked for apples; strung pumpkin seeds; told ghost stories; made fudge and molasses candy; ate Jack Horner pie; went skating; and participated in “theatricals.” At one party, the guests performed in blackface, and Eleanor got a prize “for acting the craziest.”
The slang is priceless, and reading through the scrapbook, you can almost hear Eleanor's voice. She often had “piles of fun,” “great sport,” or “a peach of a time.” Plays she attended were “horrid,” “darling,” or “perfectly slick.” Her “chums” were a “corking bunch.”
But Eleanor's life was not without its drama. One letter, written by her friend Ruth W. after the two had fallen out, reads:
What was it about Alfred Pratt that Eugenie didn’t know. Please tell me what I said or did to make you & Eugenie not even look at me. I’m awfully sorry and I didn’t mean what ever you heard….Please tell me why you wont look or speak to me.
There was also the occasional mortification:
This note fell out of my History Book over at Charlestown and a gentleman very politely handed it to Marjorie. We nearly died!
This scrapbook is not just a personal account of one precocious American teenager's daily life, but a window into social history and a record of dramatic technological changes. Eleanor also described riding in a Parkhurst car, as well as eating a meal “made by electricity” at the House of Edison Light in Newton Centre.
To see the Eleanor Shumway scrapbook, or any of our other scrapbooks, please visit the MHS library.
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