Nuts in May: Kids at play, 1900s


Will you play "Nuts In May" with me?

I have no idea where in Windsor or Walkerville this charming photo was taken, but it is certainly a fascinating capture of not only a neighbourhood in the making, but of one of its little denizens who looks eager to find someone to play with. And believe it or not, she is not dressed in her Sunday best.

Girls’ fashion for this time period imitated older women of the same period. Girls wore dresses of knee length, with short sleeves that were more suitable for playing. Normally, black shoes and woolen stockings went with the dress. Their hair was generally worn long and curly with decorations of ribbon.

It’s hard to imagine how modern children would amuse themselves in this little girl’s day. There were no computers, video games, or TV, but somehow kids in the early 1900s managed to have hours of fun. Their play things were simple toys and games that were passed down from previous generations. For most families, there was no money for expensive toys, and the adults were usually too busy to play with them. In the cities, there was little or no traffic, so the street or the alley was their playground.

Children of rich parents would have owned beautiful dolls, clockwork toys and regiments of tin soldiers, while those from poorer families played with stones and bits of rubbish, or used a piece of rope to skip with. Cheap toys included wooden tops, marbles, yo-yos and wooden hoops, which were rolled with a stick called a dowel.

Children got plenty of exercise as many of their games involved playing outdoors. Groups of kids would gather to play tag, leapfrog, hopscotch and games like “Come With Me.” To play, the children formed a circle. The person who was “it” ran around the circle. He touched someone on the back and said: “Come with me!” The two then ran in opposite directions around the circle. When they met, they clasped hands, swung their arms in the air once and raced for the vacant space. The child who got there first stayed put while the other became “it.”

Other popular games played in the 1900s revolved around songs, such as “Oranges And Lemons,” where two children become a “chopper” by forming an arch with their arms. The other children ran through the arch, singing the rhyme as they went. The song ended with the words “chop, chop, chop, chop the last man’s head” and at that point the “chopper” was brought down and the child caught in it is out chose to be an orange or a lemon. When everyone was out, the oranges had a tug-o-war match with the lemons.

Another game, called “Nuts In May”, involved a line with a row of children standing on either side of it. The children sang the song “Nuts in May” and at the end of the song, with the words “We’re sending [a child’s name] to fetch her away”, the named child stepped onto the line and tried to pull the child standing opposite over it. If he succeeded, the other child was out. The game continued until only one child was left. That child was the winner.

1900s children often made their own toys. Girls would raid their mother’s sewing box to make dolls, either by dressing wooden pegs with hand stitched clothes or by making rag dolls, with buttons for eyes and embroidered mouths. Boys would fashion swords from sticks or make slings using forked sticks and a piece of elastic. These would be used to fire small stones. Looping pieces of string through a tin can made stilts; the child would stand on the cans and hold onto the string as he walked. Many children made their own scrapbooks using old greetings cards, newspaper clippings or pieces cut from religious magazines.

Read more here.

One of our Walkerville Times columnists, Al Roach, a retired Lowe Tech teacher and author, provided us with his tale written in the 1990s where he compared his “deprived” childhood in the 1930s to the kids 60 years later:

The Alleys of Our Youth

by Al Roach

I had a disadvantaged childhood. What’s the use of trying to conceal it? I admit it frankly. And every one of my friends was similarly deprived.

We attended no antiseptic daycare centres, we were not driven to school on rainy days, we swam in no ceramic-tiled swimming pools, we flew to no vacations in Switzerland, we did not live in air-conditioned homes, we had no manicured lawns to keep off of.

We had no organized little leagues and no expensive tax supported playgrounds, we rode no $2,000 ten-speed Pugeots, we owned no record collections of Led Zeppelin, we ate no store-bought cookies.

We were deprived. …

Read on here.

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About Elaine Weeks

How history was taught in my day: memorize lots of boring dates and facts, watch corny old black & white history films. There was one bright spot, however. Grade 9 history at Walkerville Collegiate with Miss Falls (Georgina) when she taught a section on local history and took us on a field trip to explore some of Windsor's built heritage. Due to a peculiar series of events, celebrating local history became part of my business. My company, (partner is Chris Edwards,) Walkerville Publishing Inc., launched "The Walkerville Times" in 1999, which in due course became "The Times Magazine". Our goal was to make history real. I am a writer, editor, blogger, photographer, mother, wife, sister, activist, traveller, gardener, knitter, masters track & field competitor (when I have time), glass is nearly full person.
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