Victorian era required some level of ingenuity on the part of citizens to
provide for their entertainment. In addition to musical and literary
accomplishments children often played games to pass the time. We will
explore a few which might be easy and appropriate for camp life.
Shadow pantomimes were entertaining for children. A sheet was hung with a
candle behind it. The "performer" would then manipulate the hands to
produce shadows in the shape of various animals for the delight of the
children who would guess the animal being portrayed. During the 1850's
books were available which told how to produce the various animal shadows.
somewhat different take on this simple game was shadow buff. Again a
sheet or curtain was hung with a candle or light behind it. Participants
would take turns passing between the sheet and candle so that their shadow
was cast upon the sheet. They were allowed to disguise themselves by
putting hats or turbans on their heads, shawls around their shoulders,
walking in a crouched position, etc. and their friends were to guess whose
shadow was being cast upon the sheet.
Blind-Man's Buff was played by blindfolding a participant who was to catch
and identify one of the other participants. If the "blind man" identified
his subject that person then took his or her place and the "blind man"
then joined those whom the subject sought to catch and identify.
19th century version of Hide And Seek was somewhat different than most
children are used to today. One child leaves the room and the others then
hide some simple object such as a thimble or key. When it has been hidden
the children call the other participant back into the room and he or she
is to find the hidden object. Her playmates coach her by calling "Warm",
"Getting Warmer" etc. when she is near the object and "cold", "coldest -
freezing" etc. when she moves farther away from the hidden object. Once
the participant has located the hidden object the activity is repeated
with a different child being the one to seek the hidden item.
The Ring is played thus: All those playing sit in a circle and hold onto
a ribbon which passes all around. A ring is slipped on the ribbon and
while all hands are in motion passing the ring along the ribbon the hunter
in the center must guess where the ring is. The new player who is caught
with the ring becomes the hunter for the next round.
Spy was played by blindfolding one child while the others hid. When they
had successfully hidden themselves they called the blindfolded child who
then removed the blindfold and attempted to find the hidden children.
Upon so doing she would call "I spy Mary" or whatever the child's name
might be. Mary would then try to run to the place where the child had
been blindfolded before she reached it herself or was then to take the
blindfolded participant and continue the game.
familiar Pat-A-Cake played during the mid-19th century was as it is known
today to babies everywhere. Participants would clap the hands together
while reciting this verse:
a cake, pat a cake, baker's man!
me a cake as fast as you can;
it, and prick it, and mark it with T
it in the oven for Thomas and me."
See-Saw was played by placing a board across a fence or piece of wood
with a child on each end. As one rose the other came nearer the ground.
Mid-Victorian children were given soap bubbles to play with using a
piece of reed or quill for the "wand" through which to blow the bubbles.
When the bubble was blown slightly shaking the "wand" would release the
bubble to float through the air. A tin cup or other container to hold
the soapy solution is all else that is required.
length of hemp rope and a smooth surface is all that is required for Jump
Rope. Two children may swing the rope while a third jumps, or simply pass
it back and forth underneath the jumper's feet.
Grace was introduced in Germany and spread to other countries.
Participants held two sticks with which they attempted to catch and toss
a round ring through the air. The hoop was generally decorated with pieces
of ribbon to add interest.
Shuttlecock and battledoor was recommended as a source of exercise to
promote girls' health. Catherine Beecher in her Miss Beecher's
Domestic Receipt Book suggested this game and skipping rope as
alternatives to playing the piano to promote good health, and The
Ladies' Repository suggested that parents join in such games to
promote mechanical skills in their children.
game is very similar to badminton in that the Shuttlecock, sometimes
called a bird, was a ball with feathers stuck into it, and the battledoors
were used to keep the shuttlecock in the air by hitting it back and forth
to each other. It was said a good player could pass the shuttlecock to a
partner a thousand times or more.
Children played with a cup and ball toy which consisted of a wooden cup on
a stick with a ball tied to it. The object was to toss the ball upward
and catch it in the cup. Folk versions of this are still enjoyed today.
work was thought of as a satisfactory activity for a young girl. (Note
beads would have been glass). Necklaces strung of beads, bracelets,
purses, etc. were popular items produced. The beads were strung on either
tiny ribbon, linen thread, or something of the like such as wool yarn.
Many young women probably learned the rudimentary methods of beadwork
while pursuing such a childhood activity. Beaded purses were produced
throughout the early and mid-l9th century.
Older girls might spend their leisure time making doll dresses, pin
cushions, sachets, needle-books, pen-wipers, embroidery, patchwork,
purses, trim work (to include tatting and other trims), rug making,
knitting, etc. Publications such as Godey's often contained directions
for such projects, and they varied in level of simplicity so that most
children could find something within their grasp.
practice of young girls making samplers to showcase their fine sewing
skills began well before the 1860's. Such samplers often included
pictorial scenes, alphabet, numbers, and a variety of fancy stitches. As
the practice progressed Biblical verses and sentimental verses were often
added. Many of the stitches and directions for things such as needle
books can be found in The Workwoman's Guide.
Dolls went through several phases by 1860. A doll form the 18th century
might have been carved from wood with blown glass eyes and pretty gowns
to wear. Paper dolls were available by the 1840's. By 1860 a doll
might have been made entirely of cloth, or cloth or kid body with china
head, hands, and feet. Doll houses were sometimes quite elaborate with
great attention to details such as painted floor cloth floors, wall
paper on the walls, and furniture copied from that of the day.
Books of nursery rhymes and children's stories were a popular past-time.
Popular examples include Mother Goose and Grimm's Fairytales, etc. and
titles included Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Mother
Hubbard, Cock Robin, Jack the Giant Killer, Cinderella, Humpty Dumpty,
became increasingly harder to obtain in the South as the war waged on, and
many journalists of the period recorded in their diaries their heartbreak
at not being able to provide toys for their children at Christmas. Lucky
was the Southern child who received a home-made doll, or stuffed cotton
animal such as a rabbit or dog, a wooden sword, woolen ball, etc.
might pursue word or numerical puzzles more so than girls, perhaps
preparing them for the business world which awaited them, and gymnastics
were more strenuous for boys than for girls.
Swimming and games such as cricket, draughts (checkers), chess, and
archery were often engaged in by boys and young men. Simple feats of
magic were outlined in publications of the day for the amusement of boys.
Fishing was thought to be an appropriate past-time for a boy or young man,
and tips were sometimes published on how best to catch both salt water and
fresh water fish. Dick & Fitzgerald published an angler's guide in l887
and references are made now and again in period works to Isaac Walton who
published a fisherman's guide as early as 1653. It was such a success it
was reprinted with updated chapters a few years later. Rods were of cane,
bamboo, vine, hickory, etc. The cane and bamboo were often in sections
with brass ferrules. Lines were generally of horse hair, and floats most
often were made from cork. The corks were often painted to make them
easier to see in the water. Trout, bream, perch, etc. were popular,
however, neither the angler's guides or period cookery books make much
mention of catfish. Baits included worms of every kind, minnows,
grasshoppers, crickets, etc.
Keeping pets such as guinea pigs, pigeons, and rabbits were considered
suitable activities for young men. Literature was available which
outlined the care of such small animals.
Walking on stilts was pursued by many boys of the period. Stilts were
fashioned by suspending a length of rope some distance from the ends of
the poles or nailing a small piece of wood onto the poles on which to
place the feet. The boy would hold on to the top of the poles with his
hands while moving the bottom of the poles forward with his feet in a
walking fashion. It was possible to cross a creek or branch without
getting wet in such a manner.
and girls found many hours of amusement spinning tops. These might be
whip-tops or peg-tops. They were constructed of wood and either spun with
the hands or by pulling a string. There were also tops called
humming-tops which were sold at various institutions of the day.
Several games were outlined in publications of the day which were played
with marbles. One can easily produce the clay marbles by using clay
compound sold at better crafts stores.
activities such as See Saw, Hide and Seek, Charades, Hop Scotch, swinging,
skating, Blind Man's Buff, etc. were considered suitable for both girls
and boys. Others such as playing with a pea-shooter, flying a kite,
playing with pop-guns, leap-frog, etc. were considered by some more
appropriate for boys than girls. For some of these activities such as
leap-frog this may have been due in part to the constraints of wearing a
dress versus the freedom of movement of traditional boys' clothing.
Follow My Leader was played by choosing the most active child to lead the
troop who were to mimic the leader's movements. the leader would hop,
skip, run, walk, etc. varying activities as much as possible, and those
following were to duplicate his movements.
Chemistry experiments, optical illusions, and card tricks were also
outlined in publications of the day to provide amusement for boys. These
varied in skill level needed providing something for just about any age
Diary entries tend to be concerned with the daily affairs of living and
the threats faced by citizens in a war-torn country, but some of the games
I have found documented in period diaries include: backgammon, draughts,
chess, and dominoes. Lucy Breckinridge recorded
in her diary Aug. 12, 1862, "After supper Brother Gilmer and Miss Fannie
played chess. Miss Fannie beat him every game."
Buck was 19 years old when she began her diary. In 1863 she mentions
playing Blind Man's Buff which leads us to believe young adults were still
amused by such games. Having an adult lead the children in such games
would help to keep children amused in camp. She also records that her
father gave her ice skating lessons during the same year and mentions
playing backgammon and draughts.
games during this period of history included cribbage, whist, euchre,
quadrille, and quinze. Cribbage was recommended as an activity for the
young to promote the science of calculation. On the other end of the
scale was quinze which was enjoyed for its simplicity and depended on
chance rather than skill.
publications of the day including both books and journals contained
instructions for playing such games. Vanity Fair mentioned euchre
in 1861, DeBow's Review contained a notice for a book of directions
for playing whist in 1859, and Inquire Within published by Dick &
Fitzgerald in 1868 contains detailed instructions for cribbage, whist,
quadrille, and quinze. Dick & Fitzgerald also published a Modern
Pocket Hoyle which gave instructions for all the games played at the
time of publication in l868. This book was reprinted many times over the
years. Copies vary in price according to the actual date of publication
with more recent versions being less expensive than the earliest versions.
The Treasures of Childhood. Opie, Iona & Robert. Alderson,
Brian. New York. l989.
The Boy's Own Book. Clarke, William. 1829. Reprint Applewood
The Girl's Own Book. Child, L. Maria. 1834. Reprint
Peterson's various issues, 1863
Godey's various issues 1861
Ersatz in the Confederacy: Shortages and Substitutions on the
Southern Homefront. Massey, Mary Elizabeth. University of SC
Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven: The Diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck. 1973.
Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: The Journal of a Virginia Girl.
1979. U of SC Press.
Life in the South by a Blockaded British Subject. 1863.
London. Chapman and Hall.
Inquire Within: Or Over 3700 Facts for the People. 1868.
Dick & Fitzgerald. New York.
Fair. Various issues.
DeBow's Review. Various issues.
Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt-Book: Designed as a Supplement to
her Treatise on Domestic Economy. Beecher, Catherine. 1850. New
York. Harper & Bros.
Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted to Literature, Arts
and Religion. Methodist Episcopal Church. June 1851. Cincinnati.