December 30, 2013

Margaret Waters: Infamous Baby Farmer

The Execution of Mary Waters (from
On October 11, 1870, Margaret Waters, also known as the Brixton Baby Farmer, was hanged for murder in the Horsemonger Lane Goal, London, England, the first ever baby farmer to be executed.

Born in 1835, Margaret Waters took up baby farming to support herself after her husband died.  She would take in other people's infants for money but she soon found it more profitable to drug the babies with opiates, (which suppress the appetite)and then leave the babies to slowly starve. To dispose of the babies, she would wrap their bodies in brown paper and dump them on the streets, a common site in Victorian Britain due to the high cost of burial. At the time of her execution, she was thirty-four years old.

She is believed to have killed up to nineteen children. Waters was charged with five counts of willful murder, neglect, and conspiracy, Her sister, Sarah Ellis, was convicted in the same case for obtaining money under false pretenses She was sentenced to eighteen months hard labor.

References and additional reading:

December 1, 2013

Author's Notes: What was a Baby Farm?

A child's life saved: before(above) 
and after (below) removal from a baby farm, 1917.  
Photos from The Adoption History Project

  My new book is entitled The Baby Farm, but what exactly     was a baby farm?

  The FreeOnlineDictionary notes two definitions:

  1. a place that houses and takes care of babies for a fee.
  2. a residence for unwed mothers that also arranges      adoptions.

  The term "baby farm" was common in the late nineteenth and   early twentieth century when illegitimacy was severely    stigmatized, it was felt that unwed mothers should be    punished, not helped, and pregnant unmarried women were  refused admission to maternity hospitals.

  Originally, a baby farm meant family day care, but soon    developed a terrible reputation when horrific abuses and  death traps were exposed.  The scandals that resulted  prompted the child welfare laws we have today. 

  In its extreme form, babies were bought and sold like any    other product.  The Adoption History Project (see reference below) notes: "Baby farmers sometimes profited on both ends of the adoption transaction, first extracting fees from desperate birth mothers and then demanding large sums from adopters."  Often the homes combined an unlicensed maternity hospital, a brothel and a baby farm combined.  Here is an example, again from The Adoption History Project, of such an enterprise:  "The woman who operated this home made a specialty of taking in unfortunate girls for maternity cases, she then made inmates of them and charged them for the board of their children; or she would dispose of a child for the sum of $25.00 or more."

Lest we think that baby farms were confined to big cities like New York or Chicago, there were 40 baby farms operating in Minneapolis alone in 1905.

References and additional reading:

November 27, 2013

Now Available: THE BABY FARM (The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, Book 2)

My new book is now available.  Get it in e-book and print paperback at or and for Nook at  Here's the back cover blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Winter is seven months pregnant and married… to the wrong man.  When it appears that her true love has abandoned her, she is forced to marry a brutal man, for it’s 1885, and her only choice is to marry someone, anyone, or give up her baby.  But once her daughter is born, her cruel husband sells the child to a baby farm. Outraged, Hannah attacks him only to be beaten and imprisoned. Now it is up to Claire Sargent and the girls of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice to plan a daring escape and spirit Hannah away to safety.  But once rescued, Hannah won’t leave without her daughter.  Claire and the girls of the Secret Society face their most daunting mission yet, for not only must they find the baby girl, they must steal her away. 

The Baby Farm is part of a series.  The first book in the series is The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice.  Get it online at the same websites.

November 12, 2013

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: The Foundation of Domestic Happiness

In 1898, what did men believe was the foundation of domestic happiness"?  Here is one man's opinion (from Western Womanhood.  A Journal Devoted to the Interests of Women.  Fargo, North Dakota):

I am dumbfounded at the first reference to the dictionary that is beside me, wherein I find an expression that makes me weep over the opinions of the old as well as the present time.  I find:  The foundation of domestic happiness is faith in the virtue of woman.” (Hare.)  I am pained to think that Mr. Hare was forced to make woman’s virtue the sole ingredient of a foundation so imposing as that of domestic happiness.  Being a man, I blush with shame that one of my own kindred should thus be compelled to make our record.  “Domestic happiness” that boon to which the weary traveler returns after his day’s work is done; to have it rest upon one-half of human life, and that half, so far as virtue is referred in the definition, the absolute slave of man, for there is no legal redress during coverture*, for the abuse of woman’s sexual organs, not even if the man bring to her person the most infectious of diseases.  By O.W.L.  Feb. 1898, Vol IV, No. 8, pg 4.

*Coverture is the legal term whereby upon marriage, a husband and wife were said to have acquired unity of person that resulted in the husband having numerous rights over the property of his wife and in the wife being deprived of her power to enter into contracts or to bring lawsuits as an independent person (

November 4, 2013

Author's Notes: A Really Cool Pinterest Board

You know how I love all things nineteenth century.  Well, I just discovered a really cool board on Pinterest devoted to photographs of women's fashion in the 1890's.  What a joy.  There are lots of pics of royalty, but it's the photos of everyday women that are so fascinating. Click here to see this board!

October 28, 2013

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Courting Rituals in America, Part 3: A Uniquely American Dowry System

In the Gilded Age, fabulously wealthy Americans could have anything they wanted, except for one thing - a title. Thus developed a uniquely American dowry system.  Rich American industrialists married their daughters to poor British aristocrats who had a title but no money. This raised the status of both the bride and groom and their families. In 1895 alone, nine American heiresses married members of the British aristocracy.  They became known as the "dollar princesses".
Consuelo Vanderbilt (Duchess of Marlborough) at
the coronation of Edward VII
The quintessential example of this was Consuelo Vanderbilt, one of the great beauties of her time.  Daughter of the railroad millionaire, William Vanderbilt, she married Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, on November 16,1895, becoming the Duchess of Marlborough.  The marriage settlement was 2.5 million dollars of railroad stock, an estimated 61 million to 2.6 billion in 2012 dollars. Pressured into the marriage by her ambitious mother, the loveless union ended in divorce in 1921.

October 21, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Deadly Diseases Part 2: The Croup

The Sick Child, 1886
Arturo Michelena, courtesy of Wiki Commons
Public domain

What does frizzy hair, runny mascara and a clammy damp uniform have to do with the croup? 

I was astonished to read that the croup was a deadly childhood disease in the nineteenth century. Today, the illness is not considered serious and is usually treated at home.  Known medically as laryngotracheobronchitis, the croup is an infection of the upper airway which obstructs breathing and causes a characteristic barking cough (sounds like a seal).  Caused by a virus, usually the parainfluenza virus, the illness most commonly strikes children 6 months to 5-6 years of age.  Treated with oral or inhaled steroids or a tracheotomy in severe cases, the disease is rarely fatal today.  But in the late nineteenth century, almost three per cent of childhood deaths were attributed to this illness.

As I was researching this topic, I discovered that the standard treatment for hospitalized children with the croup back in the 1960's was a steam tent (a plastic tent over the crib also known as a croupette) or a steam room.  Now here is where the frizzy hair comes in.  Back in the early seventies I was training to be a medical technologist.  One of my jobs during the year of internship was to draw blood from the children in the "steam rooms".  Aha! As I schlepped in and out of these rooms with the croupy kiddies, my carefully coiffed hair turned to a limp lump of frizz, my expertly applied dime store mascara drizzled down my cheeks and my pressed and starched uni turned to a damp, wrinkled clammy mess. And here's the kicker: The steam rooms and steam tents were subsequently proven to be ineffective!

For references and additional reading see the Extras section.

October 14, 2013

Author's Notes: Whooping Cough

Click on this link to hear the sound of whooping cough


In my book, Big Stone Heart, the heroine encounters whooping cough with tragic results. Today in the United States, pertussis (the medical term for whooping cough) is pretty much off our radar in terms of  infant mortality.  It shouldn't be. Cases of whooping cough still occur here largely due to the refusal of parents to have their children vaccinated.  For example, in 2010, ten infants died of pertussis in California and an epidemic was declared with over 9,000 cases.

October 7, 2013

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Courting Rituals in America, Part 2: Handfasting

F.T. Richards, Illustrator
The Idiot at Home by
John Kendrick Bangs
(public domain)
In Colonial America there was a way to get married without a priest, minister, magistrate or a license.  The ritual was called "handfasting" or "spousal".  This do-it-yourself marriage arrangement was an option for couples who could not obtain parental permission to marry or who could not marry for other reasons.

The couple joined hands and declared each other husband and wife, then lived together.  In Latin this was called verba de praesenti. The marriage vows would be exchanged either alone or before witnesses.  A blacksmith was often called upon to officiate, hence the anvil came to symbolize the of forging a long-lasting union. 

The ceremony could be performed anywhere, even in the bedroom.  This, as you can well imagine, posed a problem. It wasn't unusual for a dishonorable suitor to exchange vows with a young lady, only to renege on his promise the morning after.  Indeed, court records of the time are full of such skulduggery. To forestall backsliding, young girls found it prudent to hide a couple of friends in the closet to witness the pledges.

Handfasting has reemerged in recent times.  In the early 2000's a form of handfasting was practiced in Neopaganism, especially in Wicca, a modern pagan witchcraft religion.  A part of the ceremony involved joining the hands of the wedding couple by wrapping them in ribbons. By 2010, handfasting ceremonies were on offer by commercial wedding organizers and had mostly lost their Neopagan association.

For references and additional reading see the Extras section

September 23, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Deadly Diseases Part 1: Causes of Death Compared to Today

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons

While doing research for my next book, I began to think about the causes of death in children and teens back in the late 1800’s.  What did they die of and how does it compare to today.  The result, I must admit, is shocking.  Whereas homicide and suicide are in the top five causes of death for ages 10 to 24 in America in 2010, they do not appear at all in the statistics from 1899-1900. Here’s the breakdown:


1899-1900  Ages 5-14                                                            2010  Ages 5-14

1  Childhood infectious diseases
Unintentional injury
2  Respiratory infectious diseases
Malignant neoplasms
3  Accident /Injury
Suicide (age 10-14);congenital anomalies (ages 5-9)
4  Heart Disease
5  Tuberculosis
Heart disease (age 5-9);congenital anomalies(ages 10-14)


1899-1900  Ages 15-24                                              2010  Ages 15-24

(Based on adult statistics)

1  Pneumonia
Unintentional injury
2  Tuberculosis
3  Gastrointestinal infectious diseases
4  Heart disease
Malignant neoplasms
5  Cerebrovascular disease
Heart Disease


Of course, with modern medicine’s diagnostic tests, antibiotics and supportive care many of the deadly infectious diseases of the past have been conquered.  But there were plenty of guns around in the nineteenth century and the means of suicide were always available.  It is absolutely appalling that in America today our children are dying of homicide and suicide.  What has happened to us in the last 110 years?

For references and additional reading:

September 16, 2013

Author's Notes: An Infamous Cave

Gangster John Dillinger

In the opening scene of The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, the girls of the Secret Society are meeting in a cave high above the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota.  What does this have to do with the notorious gangster, John Dillinger?

The caves on the southern shore of the Mississippi have a long history.  The sandstone of the cliffs is soft and subject to erosion.  Many of the caves were man made so, technically, they should be called mines.  Since the 1840's, the caves were used for storage, growing mushrooms, and as bars and restaurants. 

In the 1920's, a cave on Wabasha street in St. Paul was the site of a speakeasy.  Legend has it that this became a hideout for such notorious gangsters as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Roger "the Terrible" Touhy, Machine Gun Kelly, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis and the Barker gang.

Today, the site of the former speakeasy is still in use as an event hall known as the Wabasha Street Caves.  You can tour the cave, hear the history and even see the bullet holes from a shootout that occurred there.

For additional reading and references:

September 9, 2013

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Courting Rituals in America, Part 1: Bundling

Photo courtesy of the Charles P. Rogers Bed Archive,
Original publication A. Monroe Aurnad, Jr., 1938


There was a time when parents put their daughters in bed with a man for the night.  Practiced in Colonial times in America it was called bundling, tarrying or bed courting. The idea was to allow intimacy between the couple without sex to see if they were compatible for marriage.

Wrapped in blankets or a bundling bag, sometimes with a board between them (called a bundling board) the couple were expected to talk to one another throughout the night.  The practice was largely limited to winter with the boy staying at the girl's house. There was the added advantage that if the girl got pregnant (those blankets and boards didn't always work), the parents were fairly certain of the father.

Bundling was common in Colonial America especially among the Pennsylvania Dutch.  It was still practiced in the mid-nineteenth century.  By the twentieth century, except for a few accounts among the Amish, bundling had died out.

References and additional reading:

September 2, 2013

Author's Notes: What is the Difference Between Dating and Courting?

Geza Udvary, "Courting",date unknown, 
courtesy of Wiki Commons,
public domain
In my book The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice there is a scene near the end of the book where the hero, Jack Robbins, says to Mace, the heroine: "I will speak to your father and ask him for permission to court his daughter.  Then I am going to court you right and proper."

But what does it mean to court?  Is it the same thing as dating?  No.  Essentially, the difference is that dating is recreational (for fun) and courting is intentional (for marriage).  In other words, in courting, the couple enters into the relationship with the explicit understanding that marriage is the endgame.

In the nineteenth century, courtship was supposed to have no physical contact or sexual activity.  But here's the surprising bit: A study comparing late nineteenth century marriage records to birth records showed that 30 - 40% of brides were pregnant on the day of their wedding here in America.  We think of the Victorian era (1837-1901) as an age of prudery, chastity and innocence. We thought wrong.

References and additional reading:

August 27, 2013

Author's Notes: Next book

Woo hoo!  Just finished the first 10,000 words of my next book.  I don't have a title yet but I'm working on it.  Now just 50,000+ more words to go.

August 26, 2013


Women in the nineteenth century obsessed about having light skin and used patent medicines and cosmetics containing arsenic to achieve the desired effect.  What would happen if these preparations were used repeatedly over a long period of time?  CAUTION - GROSS DETAILS AHEAD.

After as little as six months, the woman would develop darkening and discoloration of the skin and, predominantly on the hands and feet, raindrop shaped skin bumps resembling corns or warts.  Her breath and urine would smell like garlic and she would experience night blindness. Her fingernails would show horizontal white lines called Mees' lines.  Eventually, she would become partially paralyzed and liver and kidney functions would deteriorate.

To see photos of some of these manifestations of chronic arsenic poisoning, click here

If she were to take too much arsenic (and this actually happened to several unfortunate young ladies) she would experience acute arsenic poisoning characterized by headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, drowsiness, convulsions, and death.

For additional reading and references, see the Extras section

August 5, 2013

July 10, 2013

Four Star Review

Four + stars!! Got a great review just out of the blue (LOL, I made a little poem) from a website called Long and Short Reviews on my recent book "The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice".  Here are a couple quotes and the link to the whole article: "Carol has written an excellent historical novel"; "I was definitely caught up in their story, pulling for them through each adventure."

April 29, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Deathly Pale - Arsenic in Cosmetics

Pale skin was the beauty goal of women in the 19th century.  But the quest for pale skin could turn deadly.  In July 1880, the "Indianapolis Sentinel" reported on a woman who gradually lost her sight as a result of taking arsenic for beauty purposes.  Another newspaper report told the story of a girl from St. Louis who took several boxes of wafers (pills) in an attempt to clean up a skin complaint. 

There were many beauty products for the skin available that contained arsenic. In Britain one of the most popular was known as Dr. MacKenzie's Improved Harmless Arsenic Complexion Wafers.  This product was also marketed under Dr. Simms, Dr. Rose and Dr. Campbell.  In the United States, the main brand was Dr. Campbell's. The above photo shows the compound for sale under the name of Dr. Rose in the Sears and Roebuck catalog of 1901 and 1902.  It remained available in the U.S. until well into the 1920's.  The product produced pale skin by destroying red blood cells. 

But here's the kicker:  The poisonous effects of arsenic have been known for centuries.  Indeed, it was the poison of choice in Medieval and Renaissance times.  Despite the claim that those arsenic wafers were "harmless", surely women in the 19th century knew better.  Apparently not.

April 25, 2013

Author's Notes: The Ghost of Browns Valley

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of ...Samuel Brown 

Samuel Brown?  Yes, he's known as the Paul Revere of Minnesota.  During a book event at the Browns Valley Library I learned all about the ghost of Brown's Valley.  Here is what the librarian, Bernice Piechowski, had to say about Sam:

"On April 19, 1866, Sam Brown, the son of Joseph R. Brown and at that time, the chief Army Scout stationed at Fort Wadsworth, started on horseback to warn the settlers there of what was thought to be an impending Indian attack. He rode the fifty-five miles in five hours only to find the report to be false. He was caught in a blizzard and lost his way, drifting many miles to the south and into the Waubay area. He is called the "Paul Revere of the Frontier" due to his famous ride."

Bernice sent me a section of a book about the ghosts of Minnesota.  Turns out that the seldom-seen ghost only comes out in spring blizzards on the plains. When there is heavy snow, sleet and rain, an exhausted horse is seen stumbling on urged by the tall, gaunt man in the saddle. 

Most of us out here know to stay indoors in such weather.  But if you're ever outside near Browns Valley during a spring blizzard, keep an eye out for Sam and his horse.  And now that I think of it, wouldn't this be a great idea for a book?

April 22, 2013

Life in the Nineteenth Century: True or False? Women Didn't Use Makeup

An 1863 advertisement for Laird's Bloom of Youth Fluid
Pearl for the skin

Did women use makeup in the nineteenth century?  Men didn't think so.  Ah, how naive. Because their women did use makeup but it was makeup designed to look natural as if the face were naked.

The skin was the focus of beauty.  The paler the better, for pale skin denoted that the woman did not have to work outdoors and therefore was of a higher class.  Besides bonnets and parasols to protect the skin from the sun, women used creams and lotions to lighten the skin tone.  Many of these were home concoctions but commercial prepartions were widely available.

There was a difference between skin-improving products and skin-masking products.  The latter were considered skin "paint".  Paints were associated with social climbers and momen who would trick men into marriage.  A woman who painted her skin was engaging in a disreputable effort to use artifice to hide her social status.

 But there was a problem: many of the preparations contained highly toxic chemicals like arsenic, lead, zinc oxide, mercury, nitrates of silver and acids.  Some women even ate chalk or drank iodine to achieve the desired effect.

For references or additional reading, see the Extras tab.

April 18, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: More Old Names for Old Diseases

I was looking through the "Ladies of Plymouth Church Cookbook" from Des Moines, Iowa, 1876, when I encountered some disease names in the medicinal recipes section that I was unfamiliar with. Turns out these are all skin conditions. I decided to learn what they were:

Wen:  an epidermoid cyst (also known as a sebaceous cyst).  Commonly caused by entrapment of the surface epithelium of the skin.  The proferred treatment from 1876 was to wash the lesion in common salt dissolved in water everyday and it will be removede in a short time.  Today we know these lesions will not go away on their own.  Treatment is conservative surgical removal.

A felon:  Closed-space infections of the fingertip pulp most commonly the thumb and index finger.  In 1876 it was recommended that a strong mecurial (containing mercury) ointment be spread on the lesion with a linen cloth as soon as it first appears.  The treatment today is antibiotics and incision and drainage.

Salt-rheum:  various cutaneous eruptions, particularly eczema. Salt-rheum was treated in 1876 by steeping sweet ferns and using it as a drink or by bathing the affected parts.  Today, depending on the specific lesion, selected ointments are prescribed.

For references and additional reading, see the Extras section.

April 13, 2013

Author's Notes: 1883

My new book, The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, is set in 1883.  What was happening in America that year?

Chester A. Arthur is president having become so after the assassination of Presidient Garfield in 1881.

Jan. 19th: The first electric lighting system using overhead wires built by Thomas Edison begins service in Roselle, New Jersey

Feb. 16th:  The Ladies Home Journal begins publishing

Mar 24th:  The first telephone call occurrs between New York and Chicago

May 24:  The Brooklyn Bridge is opened.  Six days later a rumor that the bridge is about to collapse causes a stampede and kills twelve people

Jul 4:  "Buffalo Bill" Cody puts on his first Wild West Show in North Platte, Nebraska

Nov. 3:  The US Supreme Court decides Native Americans can't be Americans

Nov. 18:  Five standard time zones are established by US and Canadian railroad companies to end confusion over thousands of local time zones

Info from:

March 27, 2013

Author's Notes: What Was the Inspiration for The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice?

While researching nineteenth century orphanages in Minneapolis and St. Paul for my first book, Big Stone Heart, I happened upon an article in the periodical Minnesota History entitled "With Wise and Benevolent Purpose; Poor Children and the State Public School at Owatonna, 1885-1915" by Priscilla Ferguson Clement (Spring, 1984). The State School, as it was called, was established by law, opening in 1886 with the purpose of transferring children from poorhouses and from impoverished natural families to farm homes after a period of interim institutionalization.  One of the provisions of the law was to allow indigent parents to commit their children to the School.  Once the parent or parents signed the commitment papers, the children became a ward of the state.  All relationships with the parents were severed. Although the intent was honorable, as so often happens, there were unexpected consequences.

What must it have felt like to be cast aside by their parents, abandoned, left in an institution.  How would  these children have coped with the hurt, the resentment, the anger?  Thus was born the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice: a group of girls who shared a similar fate; who banded together to save runaway girls from suffering as they had suffered; whose mission helped dull the pain by giving purpose to their lives.

March 11, 2013

New Book Now Available!!

My new book, The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, is now available in print paperback and e-book at and and in e-book format at  Here is the back cover blurb:

 Her name is Mace.  Like the spice. And the weapon.  At sixteen, she is the leader of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, a group of girls who are inmates of the Home for Abandoned and Orphaned Children and whose lives are only made bearable by their mission to rescue runaways from the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. But now, in 1883, when the Secret Society is called upon to rescue Claire Sargent, a rich privileged girl who is being abused by her stepfather, their world is turned upside down and nothing is what it seems.  When Mace’s father reappears at the Home and a gang of thugs searches for Claire, Mace, too, becomes a runaway and flees into a world where she must learn that enemies can become friends and hatred can turn into forgiveness.

February 26, 2013

Teen Life Way Back When: The Lunch Pail

This photo from the Old Schoolhouse Museum in Mary Esther, Florida, evokes all kinds of images.  I can see an eight year old girl wearing a sunbonnet and swinging her tin lunch pail as she walks to school, laughing with her friends along the way, the sun warm on their faces.

What, with no refrigeration, in the days before the thermos and the invention of waxed paper, aluminum foil and plastic sandwich bags, did the lunch pail contain?  Contemporary accounts talk about cornbread with syrup, bread and lard with a little sugar, fresh fruit, nuts, a wedge of cheese, dried beef jerky.  Often, the lunch was based on left-overs from the day before and reflected the ethnicity of the family, perhaps Irish, Italian, German or Swedish.  Peanut butter wasn't invented until the 1890's, so for most of the nineteenth century no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ( a personal favorite of mine)!  The children drank water from a dipper out of a bucket.  The water had to be carried from the nearest well or the children took turns at pumping it up from the well in the schoolyard.  Food was wrapped in a handkerchief or a piece of cloth.

If parents could afford it, they purchased a tin lunch pail.  If not, an empty cookie or tobacco tin was put to use. Commercial, decorated lunch pails, so popular in the 20th century, hadn't been invented yet and the public school lunch program wasn't instituted until the 1940's.

For references and additional reading, see the Extras tab.

February 22, 2013


If you'll look carefully in the upper left hand corner of this photo taken at the Old Schoolhouse Museum in Mary Esther, Florida, you will see a dunce cap sitting on a small child sized chair.  The docent at the museum provided me with a very thorough paper that reviewed the origin of the dunce cap.  Here it is in a nutshell:

Today, the word "dunce" refers to a dull-witted, stupid person, incapable of learning.  A dunce cap was usually made of paper and schoolchildren were forced to wear it as punishment for being stupid or lazy.  The term "dunce" derives from the name of a person:  John Duns Scotus.  He was a very influential philosopher-theologian of the High Middle Ages who lived from 1266 to 1308. He advocated wearing conical hats to increase learning similar to those worn by wizards.

As so often happens over time, the teachings of Scotus fell out of favor and were ridiculed and despised.  The conical hat became a symbol of ignorance instead of a symbol of learning.  By 1577, Scotus's name had been transformed into "dunce".  The first recorded reference was a "dunce table" provided for duller or poorer students in the 1624 play "The Sun's Darling" by John Ford.  The term "dunce cap" appeared for the first time in the 1840 novel "The Old Curiosity Shop" by Charles Dickens.

February 11, 2013

TEEN LIVE WAY BACK WHEN: 1915 Rules for Teachers

Visited a charming one-room schoolhouse museum in Mary Esther, Florida, the other day.  In 1915 the school board issued these rules for teachers, a perfect example of the restrictions working women endured.  Take a look:

1.  You will not marry during the term of your contract.
2.  You are not to keep company with men.
3.  You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
4.  You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
5.  You may not travel beyond city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
6.  You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
7.  You may not smoke cigarettes.
8.  You may not dress in bright colors.
9.  You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
10. You must wear at least two petticoats
11. Your dresses must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
12. To keep the schoolroom neat and clean, you must:  sweep the floor at least once daily, scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water, clean the blackboards at least once a day, and start the fire at 7 a.m. so that the room will be warm by 8 a.m.

February 9, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Scoliosis

Treatment of scoliosis by suspension prior to casting, 1870
from Wiki Commons
Fascinating photos of the discovery of King Richard III's skeleton under a car park in Leicester, England, showed that the king suffered from severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine).  Check out this link:

Scoliosis has been known for centuries but what did we know about it in the nineteenth century and how was it treated? Back then there were multiple theories about what caused the spine to curve out of alignment.  They included:
  • Girls were less physically active than boys causing their spines to be weak and grow crooked
  • The furniture used in schoolrooms caused the children to sit at awkward angles
  • Corsets worn by women
  • Unequal leg lengths
  • Muscle weakness on one side of the body
The truth is we didn't know what caused scoliosis back then and we still don't know what causes the most common form today.  Treatments in the 19th century and early 20th century included exercises for strengthening the back muscles, casts and braces and combinations of traction, suspension, bracing and postural corrections.  Today, the treatment consists of braces to prevent further progression in children who are still growing and spinal fusion surgery for those whose bones have completed the growth process.
For references and additional reading see Extras

February 6, 2013

Author's Notes: Coming Soon

My next book, The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, should be available soon in e-book format and as a print paperback.  More info to follow.

Her name is Mace. Like the spice. And the weapon. At sixteen, she is the leader of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, a group of girls who are inmates of the Home for Abandoned and Orphaned Children and whose lives are only made bearable by their mission to rescue runaways from the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. But now, in 1883, when the Secret Society is called upon to rescue Claire Sargent, a rich privileged girl who is being abused by her stepfather, their world is turned upside down and nothing is what it seems. When Mace’s father reappears at the Home and a gang of thugs searches for Claire, Mace, too, becomes a runaway and flees into a world where she must learn that enemies can become friends and hatred can turn into forgiveness. 

February 4, 2013

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Schooling for American Indians

Photos courtesy of Wiki Commons:  Sioux Indian Boys upon arrival at the Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1879

Last time we talked about the the education of children from widely separated families out here on the Great Plains in the one-room schoolhouse.  But there was another population of children and teens living in the area - the American Indian.  The policy of the United States Government in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century on the education of native peoples is nicely summed up in this quote from the University of Washington (

"The goal of Indian education from the 1880s through the 1920s was to assimilate Indian people into the melting pot of America by placing them in institutions where traditional ways could be replaced by those sanctioned by the government. Federal Indian policy called for the removal of children from their families and in many cases enrollment in a government run boarding school. In this way, the policy makers believed, young people would be immersed in the values and practical knowledge of the dominant American society while also being kept away from any influences imparted by their traditionally-minded relatives."

The photograph above shows a group of Sioux Indian boys as they were dressed upon arrival at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania in 1879.  It was common to take "before" and "after" photos to show the public the civilizing effect of the boarding school on the children.  By the 1920's, the government changed its policies and Indian children were educated in local public schools.

January 26, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Cookbooks

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
I was surfing the web looking at cookbooks from the 1800's when I discovered not only recipes, but cures for everything from diphtheria to drunkenness.  Before now, I didn't realize that cookbooks also served as a medical guide for the home in the nineteenth century.

Last week, we talked about chilblains.  I paged through several cookbooks to see what they had to say about this mysterious disease.  Here are two suggested remedies:

From The "76", A Cook Book, published by the Ladies of Plymouth Church, Des Moines, Iowa, 1876.
"Mrs. J.P. Foster offers this treatment for chilblains:  Place red hot coals in a vessel and throw upon them a handful of cornmeal.  Hold the feet in the dense smoke, renewing the coals and meal till the pain is relieved.  This has been known to make very marked cures, when all other remedies have failed."

From The New Dixie Cook-book and Practical Housekeeper by Estelle W. Wilcox, 1889.
"Chilblains - Are the result of a chilling of the part.  To cure, keep away from the fire, and at night, before going to bed, wash in cold water, or rub in snow, and apply resin ointment ,made by all druggists, with a little oil of turpentine added to it."

The first one makes some sense in light of what we know today.  But the second one - yikes!  Rub the part in snow?

Old cookbooks courtesy of

January 21, 2013

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: The One-Room Schoolhouse

From Flickr Commons
Out here on the Great Plains in the nineteenth century, most folks lived and homesteaded on the prairie far from their neighbors.  This presented a problem when it came to school.  Because the pupils were of all ages and grades, the one-room schoolhouse became the answer.  Male teachers were preferred because they could live independently.  However, single female teachers could not and had to lodge with the families of their students.  Once a female teacher married, her teaching career was over.

The schoolhouse was usually located centrally between the homes of the students.  Most of the time, the students walked to school.  In some areas, where it was so sparsely populated and distances were long, the children boarded at the school during the winter rather than attempt to get home each day.

The one-room schoolhouse had some sort of heat source, usually a wood burning stove. There was an outhouse behind the school.  Desks were lined up with the youngest students in the front and the oldest in the back.  The teacher taught all grades, first through eighth,  focusing on one group at a time assigning them a task to do while she turned her attention to another group. Arithmetic, reading, spelling, geography and history were taught among other subjects.

January 19, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Winter Weather Afflictions

It's going to get mighty cold here in the Midwest in the next couple of days, in fact, it's going to be below zero.  This is definitely frostbite weather (see my post on 10/12/2012 for more on frostbite).  Did you know that there is a disease that mimics frostbite, but isn't frostbite at all?

It's called chilblains (or pernio in medical speak).  Ever heard of it? The word chilblain was coined in 1540 from chill + blain (a blister, blotch, or sore on the skin).  With exposure to cold, damp weather and then sudden warming, the patient develops itching, red patches, swelling and blistering of the skin on the toes, fingers, ears and nose.  You can see how this could be confused with frostbite.

Unlike frostbite which is caused by actual freezing of the tissue, chilblains is caused by inflammation of the small blood vessels of the skin. But what is it about cold exposure that causes inflammation to form around the skin's small blood vessels? There's a really cool letter from 1947 in the archives of BBC Radio (see reference below) where Dr. Charles Hill says "doctors don't yet know anything to speak of about chilblains." Now, here's the interesting bit: We didn't know the answer in the nineteenth century or the twentieth century and we still don't know today!

Over the centuries there have been many treatments tried for chilblains.  Diane Atwood did an article on chilblains (see reference below) and here are a few historical remedies she discovered:

"Make a poultice of mashed potatoes and turnips mixed with a little turpentine
Soak your feet in a pot of warm urine
Take a raw onion, cut it in half and then rub vigorously onto the tortured toe and then sit back till the throbbing abates"
Today, chilblains are treated with topical steroids for the itching and swelling and medications that improve blood flow. Prevention is key: Limit exposure to cold, dress warmly and cover exposed skin.

References and additional reading:

January 17, 2013

Author's Notes: New Release Dates

The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice is now scheduled for release in February. I will let you know when it is available!  Here is the back cover blurb:

Her name is Mace.  Like the spice. And the weapon.  At sixteen, she is the leader of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, a group of girls who are inmates of the Home for Abandoned and Orphaned Children and whose lives are only made bearable by their mission to rescue runaways from the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. But now, in 1883, when the Secret Society is called upon to rescue Claire Sargent, a rich privileged girl who is being abused by her stepfather, their world is turned upside down and nothing is what it seems.  When Mace’s father reappears at the Home and a gang of thugs searches for Claire, Mace, too, becomes a runaway and flees into a world where she must learn that enemies can become friends and hatred can turn into forgiveness.

The Baby Farm (Book Two of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice) is scheduled for release in October, 2013.  More details to follow!

January 15, 2013

Teen Life Way Back When: Bad Boys and Ghosts

What would a teen hunker down and read for pure enjoyment in the mid to late nineteenth century?  Besides the obvious authors that we're all familiar with such as James Fenimore Cooper or Louisa May Alcott, who else was popular back then?

Turning to my newest resource from this time period, The Common School Question Book and Review by Isaac Hinton Brown, I found this question:  "#35.  Name principal writers of recent fiction".  The answer contained a list of authors I'd never heard of but were apparently universally well known at the time:  Charles Dudley Warner, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, George Washington Cable, Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett, Julian Hawthorne, Harriet P. Spofford and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.  I decided to investigate two of them Thomas Bailey Aldrich and Harriet P. Spofford.

  Cover of current edition
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, prolific novelist and poet, lived from 1836-1907.  One of his best known works, said to have inspired Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, was The Story of a Bad Boy published in 1870.  Described as a semiautobiographical memoir and realistic portrayal of an all-American boyhood, this novel featured the juvenile character "Tom Bailey".  Astonishingly, a search of revealed that this book is still in print, the most recent version published on April 27, 2011 (see photo).  Other books by Thomas Bailey Aldrich include Baby Bell, Marjorie Daw, Queen of Sheba and Still Water Tragedy.

Harriet Spofford from Wiki Commons
Harriet P. Spofford, 1835-1921, wrote poetry and novels.  Described as a "sentimentalist" by The Common School Book, she wrote gothic romances with, according to Wikipedia, "luxuriant descriptions and an unconventional handling of female stereotypes".  One of her more famous books was Sir Rolan's Ghost.  This book, too, is still in print.  The most recent edition by Nabu Press in Turkish was published on May 12, 2010 and is available through (that is, if you can read Turkish!).  Other books by this author include The Amber Gods, The Thief in the Night and The Servant Girl Question.

For references and additional reading see the Extras section.