Dieting a Hundred Years Ago

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

Friday, June 21, 1912:  I’ve been thinking over an article I read in a magazine. It is about reducing a speck. I think I’ll try it at least, and be less of a pumpkin than what I am now.

1913 graduation photo of Helena Muffly. She doesn’t look heavy in this picture–but maybe she’d lost a “speck.”

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

It sounds like Grandma needed to lose a few pounds—or at least  that she thought that she did.

A hundred years ago people believed that the best way to lose weight was to eat “dainty” foods and to chew food more thoroughly. This was often called Fletcherizing. People believed that they would lose weight if they chewed each bite 30 times, 40 times, or even more, before swallowing.

At dinner last night I tried chewing each bite 35 times. The sandwich and potatoes (oops–they may not be dainty foods)  that I was eating liquefied in my mouth and it lost all flavor long before the 35th bite.

My family finished eating while I still had lots of food left on my plate.

I don’t think that I could Fletcherize my food meal after meal—but I do think that I’d lose weight if I did it consistently.

Previous Posts on Dieting and Obesity

Are You Obese?: 1911 and 2011

One-Hundred-Year Old Advice on How to Avoid Overeating

1911 Weight Loss Tip: Fletcherize Your Food

Old-fashioned Treatments for Acne and Pimples

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

Sunday, June 9, 1912:  Went to Sunday School this morning. Carrie and I were going away this afternoon, but didn’t go as Pa and Ma went away and I had to take care of the house. Rufus brought Tweet home with her.

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

Grandma referred to her sister Ruth as Rufus in this post. Tweet was the nickname of friend, Helen Wesner. And, Carrie Stout was another friend.

It sounds like Grandma was a little annoyed about being stuck at home—but it also sounds like an afternoon filled with the chatter of teen-aged girls. The probably talked about the same things girls talk about today. Might they are fretted over a few pimples?

Here’s information about pimples abridged from a hundred-year-old book.

Pimples or Blackheads and Acne

These are afflictions of youth, and are generally seen together, the last-named being simply a second stage of the first. It occurs most commonly about the face, on the back between the shoulders, or on the chest.

There exist in the sebaceous glands of the skin an infinite number of vulnerable points for infection. This inflammatory condition of the sebaceous glands is apt to become chronic and may prove an obstinate affliction.

The impaired function of the general system must be corrected. First and foremost comes attending to the bowels. There must be a free daily evacuation. Fruits and vegetables are both laxatives and the very best.

All articles of diet must be easily digested, while at the same time they are nourishing.

Three pints a day of water should be taken because this amount is need to keep the kidneys properly flushed.

Pure air, associated with the proper kinds of exercise, promotes the functions of the skin, assists in keeping the blood in good condition, increases the vigor and keeps the complexion clear.

Steam the face. The increase secretion from the skin which is thus caused is helpful.

Sweating baths are of the highest value as a means of ridding the skin of its accumulated impurities, and in unloading the obstructed sebaceous follicles of their hardening contents.

When there is a tendency to pimples, massage of the skin of the face will do much to improve the circulation.  The massage is most effective when it follows steaming or washing the face in hot water.

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

Treating Cuts and Wounds a Hundred Years Ago

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

Tuesday, May 14, 1912:  Wish it would get warmer and quit raining. I just got a long scratch on my thumb awhile ago and it’s rather sore

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

How did people treat scratches and cuts a hundred years ago?

The Compendium of Everyday Wants, published in 1907, recommended:

CUTS AND WOUNDS.—There are two kinds of cuts or wounds—incised, which means cut into, or lacerated, which means  torn.

The first kind are usually not so dangerous and are treated in proportion to their size and depth. These generally heal of themselves. Clots formed on a cut should not be washed away. If there is not much bleeding, wipe away any impurities and bandage. A small piece of adhesive plaster is all that is necessary for household cuts.

Lacerated wounds have ragged edges, and the soft parts about them often will be found bruised and torn. These are most frequently caused by railway accidents, machinery, and falling timbers.

Treatment.—Cleanse the wound with warm water, wet a cloth over it and bandage lightly.

Infant Mortality Rates: 1912 and 2012

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

Wednesday, April 10, 1912:  I rubbed my shoulder rather badly when I happened to get a tumble. It’s sore yet, besides I have a big hole in my waist to mend.

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

Since Grandma’s diary entry a hundred years ago today is self-explanatory, I’m going to follow-up on yesterday’s post.

Click on graph to enlarge.

She wrote that her nephew died shortly after he was born. I wondered how much infant mortality has decreased over the years.

I discovered that the infant death rate has decreased a lot over the years–modern medicine has done wonders—but that it’s complicated to come up with accurate numbers.

First, a couple definitions—

Neonatal mortality rate—The number of babies per thousand births who die within the first 28 days after birth. (The definition was a little looser a hundred years ago.)

Infant mortality rate—The number of babies per thousand births who die within the first year after birth.

Now the complications–

In the early 1900’s most births were at home—and the births and deaths of babies who were stillborn or died shortly after birth were often not recorded.  Only 7 states calculated a neonatal mortality rate back then, but fortunately Pennsylvania—where Grandma lived– was one of those states.

Pennsylvania’s neonatal mortality rate a hundred years ago  was 140 deaths per thousand births which was about average for the states that calculated the rate.  Today the rate is 5 neonatal deaths per thousand births. As it was a hundred years ago—Pennsylvania is still a typical state near the median of all states.

Likewise the infant mortality rate was much higher a hundred years ago than now. Back then 150 infants per 1,000 births died in the first year of life. Now it is about 8 per thousand births.

For those of you who care about the details or want to dig deeper into the data—

Since I couldn’t find 1912 details, I used 1910 data and assumed that the neonatal and infant mortality rates were about the same. Likewise, I couldn’t find 2012 data—so used date from the most recent year available (2007).

The rates from a hundred years ago are from a 1915 journal article published by the American Statistical Association called The Present Position of Infant Mortality: Its Recent Decline in the United States.

(It’s interesting that the title suggests that even in early 1900’s the infant mortality rate was declining. I wonder what it had been in the 1800s.)

The recent numbers were calculated by the Center for Disease Control and are on the Child Health USA site.

Old-Fashioned Insomnia Treatments and Cures

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

Wednesday, April 3, 1912: I haven’t much to write about. I have all my lessons out for tonight that I am going to study, so adieu till tomorrow.

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

Ah, Grandma sounds relaxed and ready for some sweet, dreamless sleep. Here’s what a hundred year old book has to say about sleep:

A sound sleep is dreamless. Dreams require a certain expenditure of nerve force and mental energy, so that dreamless sleep is the most restful. Disagreeable dreams and “night-mares” are generally associated with indigestion and biliousness*, which also occasion a general restlessness.

Treatment for Insomnia- The mechanical measures for the relief of insomnia have for their purpose the withdrawing of the blood from the brain to the surface of the skin: hot foot-baths, general warm baths, brisk exercise, light massage, and cold rooms. Mental work should be laid aside several hours before retiring; late suppers avoided; coffee, if taken at all, should only be taken for breakfast, and then only one cup. Reading or amusement should be selected that does not excite the nerves.

To woo sleep the woman should put herself in a position of rest, which of itself physiologically induces sleep. Avoid irritations, noises, bad air, cold feet, overloaded bowels, all of which tend to wakefulness to prevent the proper physical rest. Then sleep usually comes of itself.

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

*Note: Biliousness is an old-fashioned word that refers to gastric distress or excess secretion of bile.

One-Hundred-Year Advice on How to Avoid Overeating

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

Wednesday, January 31, 1912:  Nothing much for today. I am lagging in Algebra. I won’t make ninety this month. That’s positive. I received my pictures today. I was rather astonished at the immensity of the girl thereon.

Farewell for January.

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

Grandma and her sister Ruth got their pictures taken when they went to Milton on January 20. At that time Grandma worried that she would look heavy–she must have gained weight over the holidays—and it seems like the photos confirmed her worst fears.

Grandma probably decided to go on a diet.

A hundred years ago people believed that the key to losing weight was to chew (fletcherize) their food more thoroughly so that they would feel full while eating less.

Here’s some more hundred year old advice on how to avoid overeating:

It is not that the average woman eats too much, but that she does not eat the right kind of things.  . . She eats too many sweets, in the form of pastry, cake, or candy.

The chief factors leading to overeating are the uses of wines and condiments at dinner and elaborate course dinners. The first two overstimulate the appetite, and the great variety offered by the latter tempt the appetite, and make it possible to eat more than one could if the bill of fare were more limited and simple.

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

100-Year-Old Advice on How to Avoid Saying Things in Anger That You’ll Regret

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

Saturday, January 13, 1912: It was so cold today. About all I did was to sit around and for fancy work but not without a rasping lecture from my mother. I guess she thinks I am a terrible lazy girl, part of which is true, oh well. I guess we lack something in some way or other.

Mother: Phoebe Muffly

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

Was Grandma lazy for doing embroidery, crocheting, or other “fancy work or was her mother having a bad day?

The March 1912 issue of National Foods Magazine offered the following advice for women who had trouble “holding their tongues.”

How the Nervous Woman Can Hold Her Tongue

There are a great many woman who come dangerously near to being common scolds. The reason  for this is that they are living under pressure and have  become bundles of nerves. When such a woman reaches the point where she feels “as though she should fly” let her stop at all hazards, go to her room, open the windows, lie down on the bed, and put on enough clothing to be comfortably warm.

Then relax every muscle in the body, close the eyes, let her get as nearly passive as she can. As one woman says, “Let the bed hold you—don’t try to hold the bed.” Breath in a deep, full breath and while exhaling count to ten slowly. Keep your mind on the numbers. Repeat at least ten times. Lie still for a few moments.

This relaxing and passive condition will be hard at first, but it will quiet the nerves wonderfully. You many feel frowsy. If you have time, sleep a few minutes. A few moments like this will save many a day from failure, will keep back words which may make heartaches, and prevent the home from becoming a place of railing and back-biting in scores of cases. A fine thing for the nervous woman is to take a five-minute walk in the open air every morning if she cannot take a longer one.


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