How do you invite people to parties these days? With my family I get an email, text or invitation to an event via Facebook. As most of my family live in one town and see each other often they forget I don’t know the details, so it often means a few texts to discover the precise information required to be at the right place and on time. Then of course it’s up to me to record it in my diary, in case I delete the text or can’t access the internet.
Even special events seem to be informally announced these days, due possibly to irregular postal deliveries and the cost of postage and stationery. It is thrifty and more immediate to send a digital invite and get a response, but it doesn’t leave you with any ‘hard copy’ to hang on your fridge to remind you, you have a party to attend. Then after the event is over, what memento do you have to remind you that you actually made it?
These delightful cards are from the late 1920s, from a time when things were done ‘properly’ and even a child’s party required special invitations. The insides of the cards give exact details of location, time (often from 3 to 7pm which is quite late when the age of these party goers was about seven or eight years), and sometimes even activities planned. Games and dancing were common enticements. While some were posted, I assume others were delivered by hand at school.
Boys and girls
While sweet and cute, these cards also make one think. The first thing that strikes me is that little boys and girls obviously went to the same parties. Perhaps it is not so strange today, but to my age group it seems odd. In my day, parties were almost entirely single sex and even if you had a brother he often wouldn’t attend. To get around this there would be two parties – a friends party and a family one. Maybe it implies that gender wasn’t such an issue in the early 1900s as it once was? Perhaps, with larger families, boys and girls ‘got on’ and mingled more easily.
The cards also show how ‘manners’ were indoctrinated at an early age. Cards were properly written out, with RSVPs and acceptance cards or letters returned. While they haven’t been kept I am quite certain that after the party the little host would be expected to write letters (letters, mind you, not ‘lazy’ cards) to each attendee, thanking them for the named present they gave. The envelopes were addressed to Master or Miss ‘so and so’, as it was believed that the first name should never be used on an envelope, even if the recipient was a child.
The collection also reminds us that education didn’t stop in the classroom. Most of the cards are at least partly written by the birthday girl or boy. I especially like the handwritten (and hand delivered) letter from a little girl who couldn’t attend a party as she was double booked. Many readers will remember the long process of writing which began by drawing evenly spaced and straight lines on a blank page. How long did she spend carefully forming each letter I wonder?
This small collection of cards and letters is from a larger collection that includes named photographs, booklets and documents that tell us much about the donors and the Ashburton community in which they lived. Those items, which deal with their lives as teenagers and adults are very important archives that adds to our extensive social history holdings.
In the scheme of things, these cards verge on ephemera – cute but rather low level, even unimportant, ‘dross’ that could be sifted out and removed. Yet they too are important, indeed some historians may go as far as to say they are extremely valuable. Museums often have very little material generated by or dealing directly with children – in most collections children are almost ‘unseen and unheard’.
This tiny collection shows how children corresponded and interacted with each other and how adults formed their social skills, even producing occasion-specific stationery for them to practice being grown-ups. In that sense they area a real gem.
By Kathleen Stringer
A selection of children’s party invitations, letters and acceptance cards tell stories of children’s manners, writing, amusements and interactions.