[Wisconsin]: 1891-1893. Hawthorne Composition Notebook #774 measuring 8.25 x 6.75". Comprised of 70 densely written pages largely in pencil in a single hand, with penmanship maturing as pages go on across three years. Lizzie's ownership signature to the front wrap designates her as 12 years old at the start of her composition in January 5, 1891. Resulting genealogy research has identified her as Elizabeth Lizzie Schuh born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1879. Census records show that she remained in this area through the end of her life. The present composition book is an opportunity to examine how girls were being educated at the turn of the century in the midwest, and how that compares to their counterparts to either coast.
It is telling how little of Lizzie Schuh's preteen lessons are overtly gendered. In many notebooks of this kind from the U.K. and East Coast, lessons during this age work to indoctrinate girls into an acceptable femininity even in seemingly innocuous ways. Yet here, the lessons seem nearly gender neutral -- a possible sign of coeducational classrooms in her school. Throughout the notebook, she writes declarative sentences, works on active and passive voice, practices tenses, and memorizes abbreviations. She composes short essays; in the beginning these tend to focus on some piece of nature, such as bees or oranges, and they incorporate natural science as well as geographical information. Later essays include original short stories and reports on American figures including Daniel Boone and Andrew Jackson. As she progresses, her compositions and her hand move toward adulthood, becoming more confident and complex.
Perhaps the largest content focus is on areas of etiquette and behavior -- again, a space where one might expect more overt gendering. And yet, a section on How to Be Polite, for example, includes common-sense behavior such as "Try to be kind and unselfish" and "When anyone is writing or reading do not stand behind him or look over his shoulder." Some of the advice seems to encourage a kind of working-class or regional modesty: "Do not talk about dress," and "Do not soil your tongue with slang." Correspondence and letter-writing take up the bulk of the rear of the book. Here, Lizzie begins by copying out generic letters likely providing by an instructor so she can learn the formalities both of letters and of posting them; later she imagines letters or copies out letters she herself has written and sent out. These appear to train the children for a variety of relationships, including personal and familial communications, the management of household and businesses, and the maintenance of new acquaintances.
A fascinating glimpse into the language and communication development of a young Midwestern girl as she approached adulthood, with research potential including but not limited to English language teaching, the intersection among disciplines in elementary and middle school, the history of coeducation, regional education, penmanship and paleography, gender studies, etiquette, and genealogy. (Item #3241)