Did People Get Sick More a Hundred Years Ago?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Monday, December 2, 1912:  Wasn’t feeling very well today. Think cold is improving.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Did people get sick more a hundred years ago than they do now?  This was Grandma’s four cold since the beginning of September. And, her mother and brother Jimmie also were sick.

Here’s a summary of the Muffly family ailments during Fall 1912:

September 1

. . . I have one cracker jack of a cold. Got the worst part of it yesterday going to the picnic without a coat. Hope it doesn’t last long.. . .

October 11

 I’ve fully awakened to the startling fact that I’m getting another cold. It’s on its way. . .

November 4

 . . . Had croup this evening so you see that put my studies back somewhat . . .

November 19

Poor little Jimmie got sick last night and had to miss his first day of school.

November 27

Guess we aren’t going to have much of a Thanksgiving tomorrow cause Ma is sick and we haven’t got a turkey.

December 2

Wasn’t feeling very well today. Think cold is improving.

17 Responses

  1. they didn’t have antibiotics so a small cold could grow into pneumonia or other secondary bacterial infections. My mom told me everyone in grandparents’ day were deathly afraid of colds.

  2. well, wash my hands–wonder if that had anything to do with it–seems to be the mantra of all mothers these days

  3. I think colds are pretty common now-a-days too. School kids seem to get and spread colds still, especially the younger ones.

  4. It certainly seems like there was more illness doesn’t it? Maybe they didn’t know about sharing drinks and toothbrushes and washing hands alot, and they didn’t have hand sanitizers either. But maybe they were more immune to serious problems due to constant exposure. Hmmmmm.. Once again, I must tell you I love your blog!

  5. The occurrence is likely about the same. The advancement in medicine, living conditions is where we have an advantage.

    • I hadn’t thought about it until I read your comment, but living conditions probably do have a big effect on how likely people are to catch colds.

  6. Interesting? There could be many factors involved as to why they were so sick this fall. Maybe it was more damp than usual, or warmer where so the viruses thrived. And I am sure sanitary conditions were different than today, or it just happened!

  7. I wonder how 1912 faired against other years. There were some years when I was in an office, that colds went around non-stop. It probably was hard to stay healthy in the winter months without a lot of oranges and green produce we enjoy now.

    • It must have been challenging (and expensive) to get enough of Vitamin C and other important vitamins back then during the winter months (though I’m not sure whether they knew what vitamins were).

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