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.

Old-Time Cold Remedies

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

Monday, November 6, 1911: It rained nearly all day and I had no rubbers along at school and Pa didn’t come for me either. I didn’t like the idea of walking home, but there was no alternative. Such a day of tribulations as it was, also had a time with the cows getting them to go where I wanted them to go. Have a cold now.

Recent rainy day at the building that once housed the McEwensville School.

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

Yuck— It sounds like Grandma had a rough day.  First she got soaked coming walking home from school; then she had to deal with contrary cows. By the time she wrote this diary entry—probably in the evening—she was sick.

I wonder how Grandma treated her cold symptoms.  Here are some old-time central Pennsylvania remedies:

Cough syrup: Mix together 1 tablespoon each of whiskey, glycerin, honey, lemon. Give 1/2 teaspoon for young ‘ums, 1 teaspoon for adults.

For sore throat: Take equal parts of honey and vinegar, gargle often.

For sore throat: Gargle with warm salt water several times a day. DO NOT swallow the salt water!

Recipes, Reminiscence, & Remedies: Mooresburg Bicentennial Cookbook (2006)

These old remedies are from a cookbook that was published by the bicentennial committee of a town about 20 miles from McEwensville, and are probably similar to the remedies that Grandma might have used.

Hundred-Year-Old Excercise for Shoulders and Back

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

Friday, October 6, 1911: Went over some of my studies tonight in order to learn what I don’t know. Exams are approaching. Dear me.Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma sounds really worried about the exams. Maybe she did some exercises to relieve stress.  Here’s one from a 1911 book:

Shoulder and Back Exercise

First Position (Fig. 40)—Stand erect, with the feet together, and both arms extended on a plane with the should, so that in the first position the left arm is extended directly in front of the body and the right arm on the same plane directly behind the body. The arms must be held rigidly on the same plane.

Second Position (Fig. 41)—by a circular movement, the position of the left arm is assumed by the right, and vice versa. During the entire movement the feet must be kept firmly planted on the floor, pivoting at the hips only, while making the continuous circular movement of the arms.

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

Another Old Bee Sting Remedy

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

Saturday, July 8, 1911: Went to Watsontown this afternoon. Got stung by a bee coming home. Went up to Oakes on an errand as soon as I got home from town.

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

This is the second time that Grandma has been stung by a bee in less than a month. When I was a child my family always treated bee stings with a baking soda paste. But another old-time remedy for bee stings is described in the Compendium of Every Day Wants (1908):

BEE STINGS.—Common plantain leaves mashed and tied on the part stung will at once draw out the swelling and take away all pain. This is a simple and easily gotten remedy and one that I have tried myself. One summer when I was helping to hive bees, my eyes were stung that they swelled shit, and this took the swelling out in an hour.

Luther Minter in Compendium of Every Day Wants (1908)

Common Plantain (Photo Source: H. Zell, Wikemedia Commons)

The Compendium is referring to a weed sometimes called common plantain (and not to the cooking banana). Some alternative medicine websites indicate that plantain helps relieve bee stings because the leaves contain tannins which act as an astringent and reduces swelling. The leaves may also reduce pain because they contain salicylic acid (which is the active ingredient in aspirin)