19th Century Games: Presentation Notes
19th Century Children’s Games
Before the 18th century, there was not really a concept of “childhood” in European or colonial American culture. There were no toy stores for children, let alone any genres of books dedicated solely to them. However, kids will be kids, and they found other ways to have fun. To entertain themselves, children living in the 19th century would make up their own games, activities, and toys on their own.
The concept that “play” will stimulate intellectual and creative growth in children was not always common knowledge. “It was not until the theories of philosopher John Locke and his followers began to take hold in the eighteenth century that toys and games were seen to have an important role in educating children”(Wolverton). After that idea gained acceptance, different industries began to develop that produced toys and games targeted towards children. “Many Europeans and Americans began to view play as the key to successful learning, rather than as a sinful and idle pursuit. This new attitude led to the development of a market aimed at adults who wished to "improve" their children”(Wolverton).
The responses to the new idea of play ranged in degree of acceptance according to the wealth and education. Wealthy parents took to the new concept early on, while less wealthy gradually took to it by giving homemade toys to their children and maybe even purchasing a toy on only a special occasion.
However, we all know that physical toys are not always needed to have fun. In fact, some of my fondest memories of childhood are the made up games that I would play with groups of friends during school recess. There were many popular made-up games that children the 19th century would play with one another. For my presentation, I will be sharing and then playing some of the made-up games that 19th century children would have played on any ordinary day. Many of the following games I will share may seem familiar. In fact, most of us have played a version of them before! There are so key questions I would like for my classmates to think about while we play these games. The first of which is, “What are the differences between the way we play these common games now, and the way they were played in the 19th century? Another key question to think about it, “Could you imagine yourself being entertained by these activities as a child, or would you have found them to be non-stimulating?” It is important to understand that these games would have been a 19th century child’s idea of “fun!”
The first game is called, “Hide and Go Seek.” The instructions are as follows: One person leaves the room, while the others hide a small object (such as a thimble or a pocket handkerchief). When they are ready, the “hiders” call, “whoop,” and then the “seeker” reenters the room. If the seeker moves towards the place the object was hidden, the people cry, “You burn!” If the seeker continues to move towards the place the object is hidden they call, “Now you burn more!” If the seeker goes very near they cry, “Oh! You are almost blazing!” If the seeker moves away from the object they then cry, “How cold she grows!” If the article is found, the one who originally hid it must take the next turn of the seeker.
This game is much like the popular, modern children’s game titled, “Hot and Cold” Simple substitutions of the phrases that the players call out to indicate whether the seeker is close to the hidden object turn this 19th century game into a modern activity. Below is a chart I have created that translates the 19th century phrases to what would be said now.
This is not the only 19th century game that has a modern “twist”. The game titled, “Here I Bake, and Here I Brew” created in the 19th century is very similar to modern game called “Red Rover, Red Rover.” The directions to the 19th century version are as follows: All players but one stand in a circle and hold hands. The remaining girl stands in the middle and touches the hands of the players as she says, “Here I bake,…(touches next hand) Here I brew, (touches next hand) here I make my wedding-cake, (touches next hand) here I mean to break through” As she says the last phrase, she pushes hard to separate their hands. If she succeeds to break through, the person who let go now goes into the middle. As previously mentioned, this game has a similar premise to the modern game “Red Rover.” Both games have the shared objective of breaking through clasped hands. However, in “Red Rover” there are two chains of players that stand opposite each other. A player from one of the teams calls out, “Red rover, red rover, let (insert name of opposing player) over.” Then, the player calls runs over and tries to break through the chain. If he does not succeed, he then joins the new team’s chain. If he does succeed, he goes back to his original team. The 19th century version was meant to be played solely for girls, which can be further assumed due to the feminine nature of the phrase they call out. The modern version is for both boys and girls.
The last game I will share with the class is called, “Hop, step, and Jump!” This game is quite fun, and is played to this day (with many tweaks in rules, according to players). The directions are simple. Draw a line on the ground. From this line, players take one hop, one step, and one jump. The person who goes the farthest from that line wins. This is still one of my favorite games, and makes any wait, whether it be at a hotel lobby or just outside, entertaining!
Overall, whether you are a child in the 21st century, or the 19th century, there are plenty of ways to have fun. Children living in these two century’s are not all that different. In fact, we still enjoy the games that were created in the 19th century by kids just like us!
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"19th Century Games." Connerprairie.org. Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://www.connerprairie.org/Learn-And-Do/Indiana- History/America-1800-1860/19th-Century-Games.aspx>.
"Victorian Parlor Games." OnlineQuilter. Onlinequilter.com, n.d. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <http://www.onlinequilter.com/MommyMe/19thCenturyChildrensGames/tab id/275/Default.aspx>.
"Toys and Games." Historylives.com. History Lives, n.d. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <http://www.historylives.com/toysandgames.htm>.