Games and Entertainmentn for the 1860's

Games and Entertainment for the 1860's




 Copyright - May not be reproduced without permission from:  Victoria Rumble  

The 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.

A 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.

The 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.

Hunt 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.

I 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.

The 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:

"Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker's man!
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Roll it, and prick it, and mark it with T
Toss 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.

A 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.

La 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.

This 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.

Bead 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.

The 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, etc.

Toys 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.

Boys 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.

Boys 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.

Some 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 boy.

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."

Lucy 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.

Card 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.

Many 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 Books

  • The Girl's Own Book.  Child, L. Maria.  1834.  Reprint Applewood Books.

  • 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 Press.  1952.

  • Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven: The Diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck.  1973.  Buck Publishing.

  • 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. 

  • Vanity 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.

  • The Ladies' Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted to Literature, Arts and Religion. Methodist Episcopal Church. June 1851. Cincinnati.

 18th Century

 19th Century

   20th Century