“Much and Nothing”: Notes from the Normal School #13, May

A lovely poem recounts a day in May 1876

By Nicole O’Connell

In this column, Nicole deciphers Victorian cursive and explores old class diaries to see what students were up to in the early days of Worcester State. “Much and Nothing” refers one diarist’s account of a day’s happenings in 1877, but perhaps the sentiment applies more aptly to a multitude of entries. 

The class diaries are part of the Apprenticeship Materials in the WSU Archives.  

This is the thirteenth installment of “Much and Nothing” on the New Worcester Spy, and it may even be the very last one. Owing to this, I think a special entry is called for. Written on May 18 of 1876, diarist B.E.P. records the day’s events, but unlike others who choose to write in prose, this author gifts us with a poem.

This eighteenth of May, Seventy-six –
My birthday too, finds me in a fix,
I want to write verses and make them rhyme,
And tell some news in every line.

Although that’s easier said than done
Yet feeling in the spirit of fun,
Though it should go from bad to worse,
I’ll finish as I began, in verse.

Of course with the weather I must begin: –
Sunshine, rain and chilly, like Spring.
Then of the school a word I’ll say,
All of the boys were present today.

We were taught to sing another way,
By Mrs. S. – She’s nice they say!
But then ‘tis very hard for me –
To start high A, and end on Z.

Mr. Russell came home today;
He’s been to other schools they say.
He will tell us much that’s new –
Much better than this, now I am through.


This entry is a delight. The effort and creativity make it stand out among the pages. You can truly see the enjoyment this writer had in retelling the day’s events. And yet, even with the creative license employed by B.E.P., this poem is still a fitting example of all the class diary entries.

We read of the weather, and even a remark about how she must start with the weather. If readers of “Much and Nothing” have gleamed anything from this column, it is probably that the diarists were always reporting on the weather.

Then, the poet brings us to the topic of truancy. While not too common as of 1876, truants will become a much-written-about topic in the 1880 diary. It seems B.E.P. was ahead of her time.

The singing lesson with Mrs. S. comes next. Singing and Mrs. Sumner are common threads weaving their ways through the class diaries. Some lessons go better than others as the students’ efforts in singing have been referred to as both “a succession of squeaks” and “a mighty tuning fork!”

Mr. Russell, the omnipresent, and oftentimes seemingly-omniscient, principal of the Worcester Normal School, makes an unsurprising appearance in the poem. It is written that he will tell them much that is new, but, we don’t have Mr. Russell’s words. Mr. Russell’s diaries are not to be found in the WSU Archives, and we must rely on the students to let us know what was happening back then.

Their beautiful variety of voices sharing the noteworthy events of the day adds color and life to our perception of the Worcester Normal School.

I have shared drawings from the Normal School students before, but I think, on this thirteenth “Much and Nothing,” their handwriting deserves to be shown as well. Instead of just the typed-up words, you can see for yourself the elegant penmanship of B.E.P. View the inky letters and take some time to ponder about these students from so long ago.

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