Kids Played Marbles with their Superintendent

Playing Marbles

The spring of 1936, Junior and Dale Wilson played marbles with several others during dinner break at school. Dale, a freshman at Dexter High School, had won about forty of them by the end of March.

Even Superintendent Clampitt played once in a while, “but he just gets beat,” Dale reported to his older brothers who’d been in the Navy more than two years. (He also told them that two more Dexter boys were joining the navy, making fifteen from a town of fewer than 800 souls.)

As a boy, Wesley Clampitt had gone to Frog Pond country school in Guthrie County with Clabe Wilson.

At the end of March, sixth grader Junior wrote his brothers that he and Dale had collected 170 marbles all together, playing the game at school. Dale reported that about 70 of them are ones he won. “The kids sure do play a lot of marbles, at morning and noon they play down in the [school] basement.”

I’ve become the keeper of some of the Wilson brothers’ marbles. I hope some of them are in this jar. They came from Grandma Leora’s house, but she also had a “marble game,” essentially a slide for them to roll down, turn a corner, roll some more, to the bottom. Little kids enjoyed the noisy thing.

The library table under the mason jar was in the entryway of her little house in Guthrie Center. There are stains and buckled areas where a plant had been overwatered. It followed her to Guthrie Center from her mother’s home in Dexter, then to Minburn and Perry. It originally came from the Goff Victorian house in Guthrie Center, where there were two of them. My mother, as a preschooler, played on the platform underneath the desk.

These days the old mission style library table holds a lamp in our front window.

This is what the library must have looked like when it was new.

Here are different ways the game of marbles is played.

While searching for how to play the game, I ran across this delightful memoir by a man who also played the game during the Depression in east Des Moines. At least for these city boys, playing marbles was a serious business, with rules and even their own language. What a gem! The Real Rules for Playing Marbles in a Bull Ring: East Des Moines, Iowa Circa 1930 by Carl Ringwall, Sr. is only available as an ebook.


There are more tales in Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.



  1. My dad used to talk about playing marbles as a kid. I never learned how. Probably would have lost more than I won, even if I had known how!

  2. I loved playing marbles as a little girl. I tried to win the puries and didn’t care if I lost the cat’s eyes. Boulders were difficult to shoot. Great summer game!

  3. I wonder if this is THE same library desk I bought at an antique shop in downtown Perry several years ago?! My Grandpa had one, but it was taken to the landfill after his death. Thus, I was happy to find an identical one in the Perry store (had a long-arm quilting area inside the store). I bought it on the condition it would fit into the cargo area of my truck to haul it Out West. It fit, I paid for it, the store owner loaded it into the truck, and now it has pride of place in my home. Nan

    • This one was at the Perry acreage from 1944-probably 1948, when it was moved back to Guthrie Center, several blocks from where it started out! Thanks for your story about your Grandpa’s and that you still have the one you bought in Perry.

  4. My grandchildren love marbles! I keep them in a pretty bowl, and I let them play with them. They do not actually play a game with rules. They make up their own games with the marbles. 🙂 They never get tired of them!!!

  5. I can’t imagine a school superintendent playing marbles with the boys (although I can imagine how he’d lose to them). Playing marbles was popular when I was a kid. I have no idea if kids still play. Probably not?

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