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: