August 6, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Just Hold Your Nose and Go

A new seat about to be installed
While we're on the subject of "stink, stank, stunk", let's talk about toilets in Victorian times.  For the most part, unless you were very rich or staying in a high class hotel, there were'nt any toilets in the 1800's.  Folks used an outhouse to do their business.  And, boy, did outhouses stink!  I know this from personal experience. I remember using the outhouse at my Aunt's farm in rural Minnesota in the 1950's.  They didn't have indoor plumbing - no toilet and just a pump and a well for water inside the house.

Outhouses came as one-holers, two holers, three-holers, sometimes more.  They were usually situated well away from the house or public building, hidden behind bushes or trees if possible. Most consisted or a small wooden structure with a door and a wooden bench inside with a hole in it.  That was it.  You could look down the hole and see (and smell - whew!) the excrement of those who came before you. There were always, it seems, flies and spiders lurking about. Under the outhouse was a deep hole and the waste was left to decompose on its own.  How did women manage with those long skirts?

Toilet paper was was not common but was available in rolls in the late 1800's.  A quick check in the Sears & Roebuck catalog from 1897 showed rolls of toilet paper for sale from $2.25 to $6.15 for 100 rolls. Until toilet paper became widely used around 1907, folks wiped with discarded paper, newspapers,pages from catalogs hung on strings in the outhouse, leaves, corn husks.  Some references stated that corncobs or mussel shells were used - can you imagine wiping your bottom with a corncob? Yikes!

For additional reading and references:  see the Extras section

August 3, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Old Names for Old Diseases Part 2


Last time we talked about consumption and La Grippe.  Here are some more old names for old diseases:
Catarrh:  Usually meant the common cold.  The term was also used for any inflammation of the mucous membranes, nose or air passages which resulted in a thick discharge such as tonsillitis or inflammation of the adenoids.  Of course, today the common cold continues to wreak havoc on us all.  Viruses called rhinoviruses, among others, are the culprits so taking antibiotics is of no use in treating a cold (antibiotics are aimed at bacteria, a different kind of critter altogether). There are over-the-counter drugs that can be taken to lessen the symptoms and duration of a cold, but basically we must endure a cold just as others have done before us.

Ague: Malaria or a disease marked by chills, fever and sweating at regular intervals.  Malaria remains a killer even today with hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, particularly in children.  Malaria is caused by a type of parasite of the genus Plasmodium that is injected into the bloodstream by the bite of a mosquito. Before the discovery of quinine back in the 1800’s, there was no effective treatment for malaria. Today we have multiple drugs that are effective in treating the disease and prevention is aimed at avoiding mosquito bites, eradicating mosquitos and taking medications before and during exposure.

Blood Poisoning:  Refers to disease causing organisms in the blood (bacteria) or to use the medical term – septicemia.  Before the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940’s, there was no treatment for blood poisoning so any type of would or infection could prove fatal.  Today, with modern culture techniques to identify the bacteria and determine which antibiotic works best for that particular bug, and the use of intravenous administration of antibiotics, blood poisoning, in most cases, can be cured.
“The Pox”:  Before we knew what it was, syphilis was referred to as “the Pox”.  A venereal disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum; it has devastating physical signs and symptoms.  “Google” the term syphilis and click on Images to see the horrible effects of this disease (warning – only for those with a strong stomach). First described in the literature of the 1400’s, syphilis is still around today. Testing for syphilis is well established and penicillin-type antibiotics (discovered in the 1940’s) is an effective treatment in most cases.

August 1, 2012

Author's Notes: Caution - Hot! Part 2

Wow, did I have a great experience on Saturday! My husband and I visited "The Landing" an 1897 restored village on the banks of the Minnesota River.  It was living history day and every home and business had costumed actors living as folks did back then.  The recreated town of Eagle Creek was authentic in every detail - no reproductions here ( I might add that Eagle Creek is the setting of my next book "The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice"out in March 2013!).

You will recall that last time we talked about how cooking was anything but simple in the nineteenth century.  Well, I had the pleasure of watching the women of Eagle Creek in action at their cookstoves.  It was eighty-five degrees outside and humid. Inside those kitchens it had to have been approaching ninety-five. All of the cookstoves had wood fires blazing away.  One lady was making a yellow cake in the oven.  A cream filling was cooling on the counter covered with cheesecloth to keep out the flies (no screens).  A heavy cast iron skillet simmered on another ladie's stove.  When she lifted the lid, the delicious aroma of hot German potato salad filled the air:  links of ring bologna, potatoes, onions, saurkraut.  Mouthwatering!

In this picture I took you will see two bricks on the floor.  These were used to create a shelf in the oven so two pans could be in there at once.  Notice also on the floor opposite the bricks is an iron for ironing clothes.  These were heated on the stove before being hefted onto the ironing board.  Those suckers were heavy!  Behind the stove you will see the cast iron skillets - also very heavy.  Housewives in the nineteenth century had muscles - no need to go to the gym (as if there was such a thing for ladies back then).  The whole experience was so real, I almost felt I could see the heroine of "Big Stone Heart", Carrie Smith at work in the orphanage kitchen.  Truly - I had goosebumps!