Mennonite Girls Went Camping
in the 1940s
with a tepee
bringing their own food
a box camera
How Many Were There?
There were six women – unless a wo/man lurking in the bushes grabbed the camera and snapped this shot. Go ahead and count . . .
When Did They Go?
The date appears to be March 1941. Because Pennsylvania would be cold then, I’m guessing the film was developed long after the camping trip the previous summer or fall. (I was not even a twinkle in my mother’s eye then.)
What Did They Do?
They raised their own tent, made their own food, enjoyed row-boating on the river – and hiked, most likely.
How Were They Dressed?
No khaki pants among them, or tennis shoes. They all wore dresses and covered their heads, most of the time with the Mennonite prayer cap.
Why the Difference in Prayer Cap Size?
What determined the size, I wonder . . .
- Amount or thickness of hair?
- Degree of plainness set by the woman’s family of origin?
- Whether the girl went to a town or country church? (Members of country churches typically wore plainer garb than town churches in Lancaster County, PA of this era.)
What Did They Eat?
I see dishes and a pan on one of the photos. What do you think they cooked? I’m pretty sure it was not a menu featured on the website of Mennonite Girls Can Cook.
Recently I spotted a Pinterest image of individual service bags for cooking tacos, dinner by a campfire from a Mennonite Girls Can Cook menu.
How Did They Capture Their Memories?
Gone were the days when only professional photographers took pictures. With cameras like this Eastman Kodak box camera available, ordinary people could freeze a moment in time whenever they chose.
Your Thoughts please . . .
- Guess what the women may have cooked over a campfire.
- Note the difference in size of prayer caps. What do you know about degrees of plainness among Mennonites of this era, 1940s and 50s?
- About Mennonites in this century?
- What else do you see in the photos you think others may miss?
- What camping memories can you share?
Good for them! There is nothing going like getting back to nature, wherever you go or whatever you wear.
The last time I saw you, Fatima, you were on the beach in Spain, practicing what you preach about getting back to nature. Every day. For at least a year. Right?
I’m glad too that you have someone with you to row the boat. Thanks for starting the conversation today.
Exactly! I have always loved the idea of camping. My 5 brothers were lucky enough to be sent to summer camps back in the 60s and 70s, as my Dad was one of the leaders, but we girls were not allowed and it used to make me very angry and I swore then that when I grew up I’d do it and make up for time lost. I am living my dream of travelling, meeting new people from different nationalities and languages so that I can practise the languages I learned and it just fills me with joy that at last I can do what I really, really want (as the song goes).
Always a pleasure to comment on your blog.
You are definitely living your dream. Your happy face on the beach and near mountains and forests on your Facebook page attest to that.
If I were wearing a hat, I would definitely take it off to you for practising languages in different settings. You have made the world your classroom. The only one that I would have any smidgen of success with right now would be my raggedy French.
It’s always a pleasure to see your comments here. Thank you again, Fatima!
I loved these photos, Marian! The shot of Aunt Ruthie enjoying her lollipop is priceless. I’ll bet it was her idea to go camping, she seems like the adventurous type.
Yes, Aunt Ruthie was a tomboy in her younger years and definitely lapped up adventure. And, yes, she was probably the instigator: “Hey, you’s, let’s go camping. We can do it all in two cars.” Maybe one – she like her friends, was frugal too.
Good morning, Marian! I have no answers to your questions. I assume they might have made coffee over the campfire in the morning, and maybe fried up something. Or oatmeal? Did they have any way to keep things cold? Did they bring some of their home-canned goods to put into a stew? I love the photo of the rowing with lollipops in their mouths! 🙂
Merril, I would “bet my bottom dollar” (my dad’s saying) someone brought soup canned in a Ball jar, probably tomato or vegetable since I see a kettle in the photo. About refrigeration, I don’t know. Maybe they brought ice packs. At home, we got a refrigerator in the early 1940s. Before that, an ice box, where Daddy put a huge cube of ice on a bottom “shelf” wrapped in burlap from the Ice Man in E-town.
Wonderful photographs! It occurred to me … this may have been one of the last carefree times they had together before the USA got drawn into WW2. I’ve read Mennonites are pacifists and many Mennonites in the United States served in Civilian Public Service in the 1940s rather than participate in fighting. Was that true in your experience?
Like other Mennonites, the Longeneckers were pacifists, but family lore has it that my Grandfather Henry contributed scrap metal to the war effort when it became clear Hitler was out to rule the world. My dad was a conscientious objector and was never called to fight or do alternative service as later generations of Mennonites did, particularly during the Viet Nam War.
Thanks for bringing up this topic, Lynn, and placing the story in an historical context.
–Love the old fashioned boxy suitcase in the top photo rather than a back pack.
–Noting the shoes with small heels in the 4th photo, I’m sure they used whatever shoes and clothes they had for this camping trip, rather than investing in more appropriate shoes!
–For breakfast, I’m betting they might have made eggs in a nest fried in a pan, I’m sure you remember those.
–Hot dogs weren’t as familiar or common back then, at least according to my mom, so I’m going with the soup, rather than roasting some hotdogs.
One of the many benefits of readers’ comments is opening the 👀 of the writer.
Honestly, Melodie, I did not see the suitcase until you pointed it out. We sold 3 brownish plaid suitcases of various sizes at Ruthie’s estate sale in June, and one of them could be pictured here. She never ever threw any thing away.
I’m with you on the soup menu choice too. Hot dogs were more popular in the 1950s and 60s. I remember eating them at Laurelville Mennonite Camp and at “doggie roasts” with our Metzler cousins.
Incidentally, I did not provide a link to the Mennonite Girls Can Cook website as they specifically require written permission to access their menus and post in other venues – understandably so. However, they don’t mind Pinterest links.
This is fascinating. I am too young to shed light on the 40’s and 50’s food or prayer caps…but I just love seeing the pictures of these Mennonite women camping with their lollipops and prayer caps. It reminds me of camping with my girlfriends and makes me think that young Mennonite women (or any women for that matter) weren’t very different from us at all.
With your zest for life and love of nature, you’d fit right in, Luci. And I certainly agree that camping fun has a universal appeal. Unless of course you don’t like creepy, crawly things!
Were these all single women? I imagine that once they were married they would not be embarking on these kind of camping adventures without their husbands and kids. Some of the women look younger and some look older.
Yes, I am sure they were all single women at the time. Aunt Ruthie never married, but I think the others did. Once I knew their names. Millie Barnhart may have been one, and I know Ruthie knew Grace (Brackbill) Hostetter. I wish I could ask her.
Based on the date, my aunt must have been 22 and into her teaching career. I think the others were of similar age.
They all look cool calm and very collected Marian! I noticed a spade off centre at the bottom in the 3rd photo. Love those old brownie cameras! What may they have cooked over a campfire? Oats or porridge for sure, coffee, chicken? Maybe they brought already cooked food with them which just required heating on a pan? Their Mennonite caps are very pretty. In the photo with Aunt Ruthie relishing her lollipop I see the lass behind her with her cheek full of a lolly. I also did not notice the suitcase until now 🙂 Thank you for this charming post!
Voila! A spade appears, thanks to your sharp eyes, Susan, possibly used to dig in the dirt to anchor the tent posts, you think? I didn’t consider them packing pre-cooked food, but they could have. I imagine someone must have brought apples and veggies too.
Hi. The tent is huge, must have been difficult to put up, so unike the little easy- to- handle tents we have now. Did you like camping? I enjoy nature, but prefer a motel room to a tent often infiltrated by unwelcome 4 legged or winged guests. Black bears especially were scary out there. Mary Sue
Did I like camping? I liked girls’ camp at Laurelville Mennonite Camp, because I met new friends and slept in a cute little cabin. Our honeymoon was a different story. After the first night in a Holiday Inn in Asheville, we slept in a pickup truck with a topper at campsites in the NC Smokies. It was hard to find level ground, so we often slept at an odd angle. As I recall, a black bear or two rummaged through our ice chest which we thoughtlessly left outside. We returned the next year for a “do-over.” 🙂
We enjoyed camping with our children more because we saw them running wild, their eyes filled with wonder in the woods, city kids let loose. After 2-3 excursions, however, we had to give that up because the tent became mildewy, and Cliff had coughing spells from allergies.
I wonder about your own camping experiences, Mary Sue.
I love these old pictures. So great to see them all having fun. I think they probably cooked sausages over the campfire. (Home made sausages of course)
With your own heritage in the Mennonite tradition, your guess is as good as mine. I believe they all came from farm families, producing their own food. Thanks for weighing in with a good speculation here, Darlene.
Ooo – I loved seeing these old photos! Good for them.
Dear Lady Fi, just a minute ago I visited your site and enjoyed the photo bomb there. You never disappoint. Thanks for returning the visit here. Lucky me!
Marian — I love the photo of your Aunt Ruthie Longenecker rowing a boat. Here’s what I noticed…
I think that Aunt Ruthie may have been left-handed because the lollipop is in her right cheek, with the stick is pointing toward her left hand.
I think her friend (back of boat) is right-handed for the opposite reason.
You go to the head of the class, Laurie. Yes, she was left-handed and had lovely, flowing cursive handwriting (angled right) until her last years. You are so good at reading body language one would think you are a therapist/life coach – ha ha!
Or a detective!
Marian — I’m grinning with delight! 🙂
Wow, what memories. I admire their guts, especially back then. You couldn’t lure me camping with any amount of bribery. Once was enough for me, lol. 🙂
That’s okay. It’s not your style, and you have plenty of style, that’s for sure, Debby. Bears would probably relish ransacking that designer luggage – ha!
Lollllllllllll Marian. No designer luggage though. I learned long ago with having to replace so much luggage the way the airlines beat those bags around. 🙂
I love seeing Aunt Ruthie in her prime. She looks like a woman who could handle anything including a guy hiding in the bushes. Aunt Ruthie might whack him one with her oar. My image of Mennonite women has been wonderfully transformed by you and Shirley. No cloistered women docile to the dictates of church and men, but independent, self-confident women with strong faith in God and themselves. These women look up to the challenge of camping without all the fancy lightweight and freeze-dried supplies available now.
Do I remember a photo of your mom and other women on a cross-country trip or was that you? It wasn’t these photos.
I haven’t camped for a long time, but when Vic and I backpacked, we took dried fruit, nuts, and grains that cooked quickly. Oatmeal and raisins with powdered milk? Probably instant coffee, too. I love living close to nature, and I love having indoor plumbing and sleeping inside. A great compromise was a house Vic and I rented on Cayuga Lake when we were first married. It had our canoe in the front yard, ready to slip into the lake a few feet away, and screened in sleeping porches.
You are right. Aunt Ruthie (and those in her tribe) did not suffer fools gladly. A spade, an oar, a kettle would all be handy weapons, but being pacifists I doubt they’d resort to violence – ha!
Your memory is correct. You remember reading a two-part post about my touring the USA in a car with a friend and her parents: https://marianbeaman.com/2015/06/03/two-mennonite-girls-tripping-across-the-country-a-squinty-eyed-look-see/ Yes, we had prayer caps on our heads then too.
A screened in sleeping porch and a canoe for slipping into the lake, perhaps under moonlight sounds idyllic. Another lovely memory of Vic, you, and Mother Nature.
Such independent young ladies of their times . Did they not have a chaperone? Were chaperones still acceptable in those days ? I presume they were.
Our first holiday together was a camping holiday . We were so unprepared , we had no china or cutlery and the tent leaked . Fun though.
Love those photos .
These young ladies were in their early 20s and probably teachers or nurses, the two professions open to young ladies in mid-century. I’m pretty sure they didn’t want or need chaperones.
I had to smile about your own hapless camping holiday. In earlier comments, I mentioned that our “camping” honeymoon was so bad, we had a do-over the following year – ha! Thanks for reading and commenting here again, Cherry. ((( )))
I’m smelling baked beans…? I’m smiling at the thought of these independent women going off to the woods and camping together- enjoying nature and each other. What a serene time for them back then. And the lollipop 🍭!! Love it.
Smelling and smiling – two positive gestures for this season. No sign of autumn in Florida though we have shorter days and a stiff breeze today. Is it fall where you live?
Cooler mornings. Quieter birds. The sound of acorns falling and hitting the ground are the signs of fall right now.
Believe it or not, cool breezes are blowing through Jacksonville this morning. I can even open windows. You and I – two happy campers!
YES, but you know what? I have a feeling that both you and I keep a smile on our faces no matter the weather. xo
No responsibilities, no hubbies or kids – just each other! I bet they had a blast!!!
Campfires and tea tables are good places to vent. One guest came an hour early to the tea party. I think it must have been both intentional and unintentional. She sat on the couch and stared, and then got caught up on Facebook. I heard these comments: I’m sick of cooking every day! I never have time for myself! Most of the women pictured here were unmarried, but must have guessed that before long they’d be saddled with responsibilities as wives and moms. So they could let loose!