The first birthday present of my memory was a hat. As I came downstairs I heard Pa say to Ma, “Shall we give her the present before breakfast?” I said, “Oh, I won’t eat it!” It didn’t occur to me that it could be anything but a stick of candy or some such little thing.

    Pa deliberated, “Well, perhaps if she is sure she won’t eat it.” After I had convinced them of this, they brought out a new hat, the first one I ever had. It was a black velvet with a magenta ribbon hanging down the back. I thought it beautiful. It lasted several years, of course, for a Sunday hat.

Anna Lathrop Clary, 1860s


                                         Rochester Minnesota

                                         July 20, 1876

Dear Grandma [in Vermont],

    As I have not written to you in a long while, I now take the privilege of doing so. As I am interested in most every body’s birthday, I like to know what they get. Please tell me what you got . . .

    Perhaps you don’t know what I got for my birthday so I will tell you. a book couple of aprons two pair of hose kid gloves ribbon crocheted sacque a couple of pictures a bed-spread a washdish some lace curtains a commode for my room . . . I want you to write me a great long letter as soon as you can. I must close.

   Your Grandchild

   Althea Stebbins


Former governor Alexander Ramsey’s journal, October 21, 1887:

Birthday party [for his grandson Ramsey’s tenth birthday], about a half dozen were present here and made the evening hideous.


Wed. June 28 1911

    To-day is my [eleventh] birthday. Got up irly this morn. Had berecfast and at my plate thar wer the pakagis.

No. 1. Water Babys [probably the children’s fairy-tale novel popular in that time].

No. 2. Kiplings boy storys.

No. 3. A grate big stick of candy. And sonething I did not see at first. 2 lovely necties.

Glanville Smith


My birthday party, July 16, 1911. I am 12 years old. 7 girls came and surprised me. I had fell down so I was going up stairs in the bathroom and put something on [it] and they all yelled out surprise. There was Beatrice Johnson, Helen Arnston, Evelyn Arntson, Mildred Haben, Selma Jellum, Ruth Mavall, Viva Jost. We all came down stairs and I unwrapped my presents. There was a book, hairpin box, 1 cup and saucer, a box of writing paper, a postal card, and a bracelet from Mother. We went on the side porch and played games. It got so cold that we had to come in the house. Then we went and played the piano and sang songs. Then mother called us for refreshments. We went and ate. We had ice cream, cake, nabisgoes [Nabisco wafers], candy, and water . . . We played the phonograph.

Ruth Marion Skoglund


The Children’s Party Book by Marion Jane Parker in 1924 had suggestions for games at birthday parties. Here’s “You Auto Know”:

A great many children take pride in their ability to recognize the make of an automobile at a glance. Try these questions on them and find out how familiar they are with the names.

What auto is called after a former President? (Lincoln)

What do you do when in the path of an auto? (Dodge)

What auto will find a person in a hotel? (Paige)

What auto is seen in the sky? (Moon)

What auto has the same name as a famous battle in American history? (Lexington)

What auto has the same name as a famous river? (Hudson)

What auto is named after a famous Revolutionary General? (Lafayette)


Friday March 3 [1933]

Today was my birthday. Got a boy scout shirt from Grandma. Got a swell suit from Daddy: a lot of streetcar tokens & 50 cents from Mother; one dollar from the girls. Hopped a truck to Sanitary Food. Got a jigsaw puzzle & went to Hamline [Theater] and saw Wallace Benny in “Flesh.”

William M. Cummings