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 Chowhound.Chow.com

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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com (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.