1874-1876 8th Grader’s English Composition Book Kept While at School in Harvard, Massachusetts

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On offer is a fine example of a student's English composition notebook dating from the 1870’s in Massachusetts.

The owner of this notebook was Emeline Knight (1861-1937) of Harvard, Worcester, Massachusetts. The daughter of Jonathan Preston Knight (1823-1891) and Relief Phelps Dickinson (1826-1902), Emeline was the third of four children born to her parents. She also had a half brother named Preston (1846-1916). Emeline lived mostly with her siblings throughout her adult life. She never married or had children. Records show that she worked as a teacher. 

This English composition book was kept when Emeline was 13-years-old, in 1874.  The work in the book provides fascinating insight into the strict academic standards students such as Emeline were held to during this time period. 

The first several pages of the book contain a list of corrections Emeline must make on her written work, and includes one piece of writing she has done with those corrections implemented. Following this are three compositions that appear to be originals by Knight titled “The Beauties of Nature”, “A Storm at Sea”, “The Study of History”. This is followed by a poem (no title). At the end of the composition book, Emeline has written a short story called “Death Doomed” in 1876, two years after her initial entries, as well as copied a poem by someone named “Alice”. 

The highlight of this composition book is a fascinating, lengthy futuristic piece is titled “A Visit To Harvard in 1996”. Emeline notes that she copied this composition from a newspaper but changed the name of the town to Harvard, where she is from. The composition/article provides a fascinating look at gender roles in the 1870s. 

In the story, a mysterious stranger says, Come thou O child of fancy and I will show thee the works of a hundred years; Thou knowest what Harvard is today it is thine to know what it shall be in 1996”

With that, the author is in Harvard, MA in 1996. The story goes on to marvel at all that has happened in a century. An excerpt follows:

“... turned to observe the passersby. Swiftly they hurried along the street or entered the shops of trade but I noticed that nearly all were women. Here and there a wan looking man might be seen leading a little child or wheeling an infant’s carriage with a look of almost maternal solicitude resting on his haggard cheeks; …”

The piece then goes on to describe a role-reversal that is both amusing in its description and prophetic concerning societal changes that would occur in the United States over the next century.

In one exchange with a woman she meets, she comments on this and received this blunt reply:

“'Do you not know' she said, that someone must remain at home. It is nearly time for dinner and who should get it if not the woman!”

Taken together, this composition book is an education in proper spelling, grammar and punctuation as imposed in the late 19th century. It also provides insight into the writing capabilities of an 8th grader during that period of time. The copied story about Harvard in 1996 is an asset to a Gender Studies or Women’s Studies program in exploring how the role of women was viewed in the 1870s. 

This small notebook measures 7.75x7.0 inches and contains 72 pages. The cover and binding show signs of their age with some small tears on the spine and loosening of the pages. The pages themselves have age toning.. Emeline has filled 33 pages of the book with writing in a very legible cursive hand. Overall G. 

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