How kids managed before there were computers …

Written by Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

Believe or not, the kids of yesteryear had plenty of pastimes to occupy their downtime—many had rules which were made up at the time and the rules changed regularly, depending on the participants.  Some of the more popular games were hopscotch, jump rope, jacks, kick the can, hide and seek and handball.  Most of the games were outside games and children were encouraged to “go out and play.”  It was also a time when parents feared epidemics that might affect their children.  Some of the “childhood” diseases that school-age children were likely to contract were scarlet fever, mumps, measles, German measles, chicken pox and whooping cough.  A high percentage of families were affected by one or more of these at one time or another.  Indoor games occupied their time while recuperating.  There were many card games and, of course, games of dice were popular.

Probably the first board game to hit the home front was Monopoly.  According to Wikipedia, it was “first published by Parker Brothers in 1935 until that firm was eventually absorbed into Hasbro in 1991. The game is named after the economic concept of monopoly.”   Sometime during this early period, Chinese Checkers came into existence.   The name is rather deceiving as it actually has nothing to do with China.  The game is based on a game called Halma which was an early Victorian game.  Pick Up Sticks was popular with many as was Cribbage and Clue along with a number of others.  And, of course, numerous variations of card games were played.  If one didn’t have anyone to join them for a game, there was always Solitaire.

Not actually considered a game but definitely a good pastime, was putting a jigsaw puzzle together and was the interest of many.  Sometimes entire families participated in finalizing the construction of a jigsaw puzzle.  Often one was set up in a designated location in the home and all were invited to assist in completing the puzzle.  Card tables came in handy for this project.

A couple of card games that were popular were Euchre and Pinochle.  In fact both of these games were so popular that clubs were established for the purpose of playing.  These clubs would meet on a regular basis.  Some were affiliated with already-established organizations.  When euchre is described, it is said “no sedentary game is more popular, or so generally played for amusement in domestic circles, throughout the widespread ’eminent domain’ of the United States.”   Contract bridge first evolved in 1925 and bridge tournaments became popular.

One of the big activities for girls was that of paper dolls.  Besides the doll, there were separate items of clothing with tabs to hold onto the dolls.  One of the popular paper dolls was Brenda Starr.  Brenda Starr enjoyed considerable popularity from the 1940s through the 1970s.  This author had a personal collection of many of Brenda Starr’s cutouts from a Chicago news-paper.  In 2008, Susie Richter, then assistant  curator at the La Porte County Historical Society, Inc., Museum, compiled this collection into a displayable binder which is on display in Museum.  On your next visit, take time to view this remarkable compilation, thanks to Susie.  Paper dolls have been inexpensive children’s toys for over two hundred years.

Every family had pastimes that best suited them.  Tradition had a lot to do with pastimes and many of these came with them from other countries.  This is just a small example of the many ways time was spent when work was done (of course, work came first).  Have you played a game of checkers or dominoes lately?

2 Responses to “How kids managed before there were computers …”

  1. Mike K

    Jun 02. 2020

    What interesting insight into the past! While the electronic age has brought some great games, there is nothing better than going “outside to play!”

    Fern… you are an absolute gem!

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  2. Dr. Alva R. Miller

    Jun 02. 2020

    It is amazing that Fern continues issuing relevant columns, pulling up facts from the past. She is absolutely a gem for LaPorte County, and sadly, I don’t believe there is anyone else as knowledgeable or prepared to continue these treasures when Fern ceases her writing. LaPorte County owes her a great debt, and I hope it will bestow the honors on her that she deserves.

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