How do we know what happened in Vermont 100 years ago?

Historians look at photographs and post cards from 100 years ago to see what Vermont looked like.  Historians examine census records to know how many people lived in Vermont.  And historians read what people wrote to learn about life in the past.

In 1910, a famous photographer named Lewis Hine took a photograph oflavalleecensus1910sm Albert Lavallee.  Albert was a boy who lived in Winooski.  He had just started working at the American Woolen Mill.  Lewis Hine took his photograph to show that children should not work in factories.

Historians can find Albert Lavallee in census records.  Census records list all the people who lived in a place.  The 1910 census tells the names and ages of Albert’s parents, brothers and sisters.  The census also lists where people were born and where they worked.  Historians can tell that Albert’s parents came to Vermont from Canada.

Some Vermonters kept diaries that tell what they did and thought.  In 1911, Alice Bushnell from Strafford, Vermont, wrote in her diary every day.  She was 7 years old and lived on a farm with her family.  Historians read diaries like this to learn about children in Vermont 100 years ago.

littlegirlsdiarymedIt was 8 degrees below zero on January 31, 1911.  Alice did not go to school that day.  She wrote “I staid at home.  Papa and Mama thought it was too cold for me to go.”

On August 7, 1911, Alice tried something new.  In her diary, she wrote, “I went swimming.  It is the first time I ever did.  I had lots of fun.” 

Alice liked school most of the time.  But on Friday, December 8, Alice wrote “I went to school as usual.  I have no history now.  I am very glad.”  Alice did not like to study history.  But historians can use her diary to learn about being a kid in Vermont a century ago.

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Write a diary entry about what you did today.  What could a historian learn about you by reading your diary entry?

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explorerlogoib Borrow A Little Girl's Diary    
books The Bitter Cry of the Children (PDF)
activity Child Labor in Vermont
explorerlogoib Read Counting on Grace, a historical fiction book based on a photograph by Lewis Hine
link See other Lewis Hine photographs at the Library of Congress

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