Beliefs About Infectious Diseases a Hundred Years Ago

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

Sunday, December 15, 1912: Went to Sunday School this afternoon. Jimmie also has the pink eye and says I gave it to him. He was real mad for a time.

Recent photo of the house the Muffly's lived in.

Recent photo of the Muffly’s house.

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

Poor Jimmie—pink eye is no fun.

Of course, Grandma’s seven-year-old brother is right—he probably caught the pink eye from Grandma . She wrote that she had pink eye on December 10—and that it was getting better on December 12.

Did the Muffly’s try to prevent the spread of pink eye?

Here’s what I found in a hundred-year-old book called Personal  Hygiene and Physical Training for Women  about how to avoid infections (though it focuses on  influenza rather than pink eye).

We have already seen that bacilli are not only the cause of acute infections, but also of chronic bronchitis, and that this was especially  true of the bacillus of influenza and the pneumococcus of pneumonia.

It is well know that influenza is an infectious disease, which rapidly spreads through the family and the community., but it is not so well-known that the so-called “common colds,” ordinary sore throat, and tonsillitis are also highly contagious. The infection is carried from one person to another by direct contagion; the air is being constantly sprayed with the germs of disease in talking, laughing, sneezing, and coughing. In coughing and sneezing it is not sufficient to hold the hand before the moth—a handkerchief must be used for this purpose.

Items in Medicine Cabinets a Hundred Years Ago

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

 Thursday, December 12, 1912:  My eyes are getting better, but everything looks misty to me now. Expect tomorrow to be a busy day for me.

graduated.glass.a

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

Grandma—I’m glad that you’re finally getting over the pink eye. Stay healthy!!

As many ailments as the Muffly’s have had, I hope that they had a well-stock medicine cabinet.

I found a hundred –year-old list of what should be in a family medicine cabinet (or as they called them back then “medicine closet.”) The list was in the appendix of a book called The Care of the Baby.

List of Articles for Medicine Closet

Those liquids marked with an * are for external use or are dangerous. They should be in poison bottles.

  • Glass graduate marked with fluidrachms and fluid-ounces
  • Minium glass
  • Accurate droppereye.dropper.a
  • Hard-rubber syringe
  • Small druggist’s hand scales for weighing medicines
  • Camel’s-hair brushes
  • Small straight dressing forceps
  • A pair of scissors
  • Absorbent cotton
  • Several one-inch and two-inch roller bandages, one to three yards long
  • Patent lint
  • Old linen
  • A spool of rubber adhesive plaster
  • Court plaster
  • Paraffin paper or oil silk
  • *Alcohol
  • Whiskey
  • Olive Oil
  • Ammonia-water
  • *Turpentine
  • Glycerin
  • Distilled fluid extract of hamamelis (witch-hazel) for bruises
  • *Soap liniment for sprains
  • *Tincture of iodine
  • *Solution of boric acid for washing cuts
  • *Solution permanganate of potash, 4 grains to the dram
  • Flaxseed meal
  • Mustard
  • Magnesia
  • Vaseline
  • Castor oil
  • Zinc ointment
  • Soda-mint
  • Baking soda
  • Sweet spirit of nitre
  • Aromatic spirits of ammonia
  • Bromide of potash in 2o-grain powders to be divided according to the age
  • *Tincture of digitalis
  • Syrup of ipecacuauha
  • Tannic acid for use in poisoning
  • Epsom salts for poisoning
  • Vinegar for poisoning
  • Jeaunel’s antidote for poisoning

What the heck are most of these items? . . and how do you use them to treat illnesses and wounds?minim.glass.a

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.

DSC06504

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.

Old-fashioned Croup Cure

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

Sunday, November 3, 1912:  Saw some snowflakes yesterday. Had croup this evening so you see that put my studies back somewhat.

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

Croup is no fun. It’s awful to have a bad cough that sounds like a seal!

The old- fashioned way to treat croup was to bring some water to a boil on the stove. The ill person would then very, very carefully lean over boiling water and breathe deeply for several minutes. The steam would calm the coughing.

I can picture Grandma leaning over a pot of boiling water on a wood or coal stove trying to sooth her cough—while thinking about the homework that needed to be done.

Using Salt to Clean Hair

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

Monday, October 14, 1912:  There is nothing at all.

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

A hundred-years-ago, Good Housekeeping magazine was chock-full of wonderful tips submitted by readers. Some probably worked—others probably didn’t.

Since Grandma had little to write a hundred years ago today, I’ll share an old tip for cleaning hair with you.

Light hair that has a tendency to become oily is only aggravated by frequent washings. A hairdresser told me that rubbing to the scalp a strong solution of salt and water and then drying the hair in the sun, would not only leave the hair light and fluffy, but would in the end cure the trouble. I have found this excellent, and of great use when I wish to have my hair looking its best in a short time.

R.V. M., California

Source: Good Housekeeping (August, 1912)

Fun Fact from a Hundred Years Ago: Short Skirts Are Healthier

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

Friday, September 27, 1912:  Nothing to write.

1912 dress

“Short” skirt for walking (Ladies Home Journal, July 1912)

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

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’ll share some fun information I found in a hundred-year-old book about how short skirts—that is skirts which were five inches from the ground—were healthier. Who would have guessed?

The present vogue of having the walking skirt five inches from the ground is an excellent one, as it not only considerably diminishes the weight of the skirt, but it interferes much less with the forward swing of the leg in walking.

The chief exertion in walking is caused by the raising of the foot and lifting it to the point at which it goes forward and downward. By any artificial shortening of the step, such as is caused, for instance, by long skirts, it requires much more muscular effort to walk the same distance. Besides which, there is the additional friction of the skirts, which is increased by the slightest wind.

Another most important reason for not wearing long dresses on the street is that they stir up the dust and collect microbes, and thus contribute materially to the dissemination of the germs of disease and subject the wearer and her family to the risk of infection.

Personal Hygiene and Physical Training for Women (1911) by Anna M. Galbraith

Cause of Sleepiness

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

Monday, September 9, 1912:  July, I mean Sept. 9. Don’t know what to write for today. So good night and sweet dreams.

moonlight

Source: Wikipedia

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

Seems odd that Grandma first wrote July—she must have already been half asleep when she wrote this.

Maybe Grandma’s mind was “benumbed” by all of her schoolwork.

According to a hundred-year-old book called Personal Hygiene and Physical Training for Women:

The sleepy feeling is caused by fatigue due to the circulation in the blood of toxins resulting from tissue waste, which benumb the brain-cells; while the feeling of freshness and bien-etre with which one awakens in the morning is due to the elimination of the fatigue products from the blood.

The medical authorities of today are pretty well agreed that eight hours of sleep is the minimum required for the maintenance of health, and all concede that the brainworker requires more sleep than the manual laborer.

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