Causes of Death in Pennsylvania During March, 1913

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

Saturday, June 14, 1913:  Nothing much doing.

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

Did you ever wonder if people died from different causes a hundred years ago than what they do today? Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’ll share an interesting article I found in the June 16, 1913 issue of the Milton Evening Standard.

Milton.Evening.Standard.6.16.13

Births Exceed Deaths in State During March

Births in Pennsylvania during March numbers 18,945, but to offset this increase in population the deaths numbered 11,000, the ratio of deaths to births being higher than the average.

Pneumonia, which always exacts heavy toll during the winter, caused 1,721 deaths in March. The deaths were distributed among the various diseases and other causes about as usual.

Following are the figures compiled by the bureau of vital statistics of the state department of health:

Typhoid fever. . .62

Scarlet fever. . . 100

Diphtheria. . . 171

Measles. . . 314

Whooping cough  . . . 77

Smallpox. . . 1

Influenza. .  .211

Malaria. . . 4

Tuberculosis of lungs . . . 817

Tuberculosis of other organs . . . 118

Cancer. . . 485

Diabetes. . .63

Meningitis . . . 87

Acute anterior poliomyelitis. . 7

Pneumonia . . . 1721

Diarrhea and enteritis, under 2 yrs. . . 240

Diarrhea and enteritis, over 2 yrs. . 63

Bright’s disease and nephritis .  . . 716

Early infancy. . . 716

Suicide . . . 76

Accidents in mines. . . 80

Railway injuries. . . 85

Other form of violence. . . 462

All other diseases. . . 4343

48 Responses

  1. “Like” isn’t really the word… but this is a very interesting piece you’ve found, Sheryl. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Interesting!

  3. 100 years ago things were very similar everywhere, life was tougher,harder, the area I live in saw a lot of infant deaths and finally every family in the village lost sons in the Great War. I like reading your posts. Thank you.

    • Yes, life was tougher and more difficult back then in many ways. Thanks for the nice note. I have fun pulling this blog together, and it’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys this blog.

  4. That’s a very interesting list. I am guessing that cancer and diabetes would be high on a list today.

  5. That is so interesting to read! Isn’t it amazing how “few” deaths were caused by cancer then? It’s wonderful that we’ve found cures for so many of those diseases that were near the top of that list.

  6. Fancy them listing “early infancy” as a CAUSE of death. I suppose it was simply accepted then.
    And railway injuries??

  7. I agree with everyone–very interesting. Seems like there was less suicide back then, also gun death, which falls into the category of death by violence I imagine. Hmm.

  8. This was really fascinating! And here we are with major causes of death so different today. Pneumonia is not on the list. I remember my little brother had Scarlet Fever and our house was quarantined in the 1940’s but who hears of anyone dying of it now? We have come a long way, but not long enough to cure cancer.

  9. I continue to love your posts. Today’s entry could keep us busy all day discussing over coffee.

  10. How very interesting.

  11. Very interesting. My grandmother’s father died in a coal mine accident in Pennsylvania. Now I want to check back to find the year.

  12. So weird to see small pox!

  13. My dad was five years old in 1913 and living in Potter County, Pa. at the time. He would lose his Mother and a sister in the 1918 Flu epidemic.

    • It had to have been really rough for your dad to lose his mother. I’ve heard my entire life about how bad that flu epidemic was. On the other side of my family, one of my great aunts died in it.

  14. So fascinating, Sheryl. We did some family research yesterday in to the 1900 census in New Bethlehem, PA. My husband discovered the names of the eight children of his great grandparents who were living in 1900. (He’d only known about two). Your post makes me wonder how many were still alive in 1913. We have lots more research to do!

  15. Very interesting. I am surprised to see malaria.

    • I also was surprised. I tend to think of malaria as being primarily a disease that occurs in warmer climates. Maybe there were problems with stagnant water and mosquitoes breeding and carrying malaria even in places like Pennsylvania back then. . . or maybe the people caught the disease somewhere else, but somehow ended up in Pennsylvania by the time they died. I think that Philadelphia was a fairly important port back then.

  16. This is interesting, I also found it interesting that heart disease or heart attack is not listed. I see Cancer ranks second to pneumonia. Isn’t ironic that cancer probably out ranks pneumonia today.

    • It’s good that we have antibiotics today which vastly reduce the number of deaths from pneumonia and other contagious diseases, but then other diseases move up the ranks as the cause of death.

  17. My paternal grandmother died in 1912 at the age of 24 of consumption. It’s my understanding that that’s another term for TB or pneumonia. Apparently she was ill for at least a year. It wasn’t that uncommon at the turn of the 20th century as your interesting chart indicates.

  18. I didn’t realize how prevalent TB was for many years. The malaria on this list surprised me, too.

  19. Sobering list, I know people died much younger back then ….we are a little more blessed?? :-)

  20. This highlights one of the reasons I’m happy to be living today: modern medicine! Recently, we’ve had a slight increase in some diseases, like measles and pertussis, but it’s nothing like it was a century ago. Interesting post!

  21. I guess some cancers have been around for a while. I don’t know why I think of it as a modern thing. Look! Measles. That’s an odd one.

    • I’ve definitely seen articles in hundred-year-old magazines about cancer. One that comes to mind is an article about mastectomies. I think that the surgical procedure may have been relatively new back then, and the article supported its use.

      In the days before measles vaccines, measles killed some people–especially small children.

      • How scary for a woman back then. Imagine the techniques were less than perfected. Now we trust that they know more about it and can even reconstruct. I have an old family photo, my grandfathers sisters first family. The kids are ages 8-12 and they all died in the 20’s from something. They went on to have more children later, but can you imagine ALL your kids dieing

  22. My grandmother’s oldest sister, Marion, died of pneumonia in November 1913 at the age of 14. (My grandmother was almost 7 years old at the time.) According to my mother, it was the fourth time she had contracted it. My mother was not allowed to name a daughter Marion.

  23. Cancer and suicide…kinda surprised to see those on there honestly.

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