March 24, 1852

1024px-Robert_Koch_BeW

Robert Heinrich Herman Koch

(1843 – 1910)

1852

March 24th  Wednesday  This morning made a call in the other

part of the house, while there I was sent for  Augusta came here

and staid untill half past eleven.  this afternoon

she came again and we went into Mrs Witherells for

an hour or two.  We went into the office when Mr Swain

went to his tea, brought some Ploughmans from the office

chamber to look over  Spent the evening at Mr Joel Randalls

Since 1992, March 24 has been commemorated around the globe as World Tuberculosis Day. The date commemorates the discovery of the cause of a disease that has scourged the world since ancient times. On March 24, 1882, thirty years after Evelina wrote about her day in her diary, the brilliant German microbiologist Dr. Robert Koch presented to the medical community his finding that tuberculosis – also known as “consumption,” the “white plague,” and phythsis – was caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. His discovery changed the world, and earned him a Nobel Prize.

In 1852, no one knew what caused consumption.  If anything, people believed that it was a hereditary disease that attacked those with weak constitutions. No one realized that it was contagious, an ignorance that lead to its spread everywhere, especially in urban areas with crowded living conditions. The disease was often, but not invariably, fatal.

Easton may have been a country town, but it was just as vulnerable to tuberculosis as any urban area. In fact, in Easton, just the day before Evelina’s diary entry, a 55 year-old housewife named Silence Macomber died of the disease. Of 47 deaths in Easton in 1852, consumption led the list; Mrs. Macomber was one of eight residents that year to die from it. All but one of the eight were women.

Tuberculosis has not been eradicated. Third World countries, especially, are still vulnerable despite great advances in prevention and treatment. In the 21st century, it’s still a disease to fear, just as Evelina and her contemporaries did.

 

December 28, 1851

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Sunday Dec 28th A very stormy day but all went to meeting

except Oakes A & self, came home at noon so few

there that Mr Whitwell thought best not to have one in the afternoon.

Mr Swains brother went with them  Capt Johnathan Pratts wife

was buried this afternoon  Have written to Miss Foss and

partly written a letter to Lucy Norris

 

The “stormy day” kept most folks home from church; it had snowed overnight and the snow had turned to rain.  According to the family’s indefatigable weather man, Old Oliver, it “raind by spells all day but there was not more than ½ an inch fell.”

It was dreadful weather for a burial, but the frozen ground and cold precipitation didn’t prevent the funeral of Sophia Pratt, who had died the day before of consumption. Fifty-seven years old, she was the mother of four sons and the wife of Capt. Jonathan Pratt, a farmer and former member of the local militia. The Pratt family had been settled in Easton for several generations; their farm was not very far from the Gilmore spread in the southeastern section of town.

In common with any human community, the people of Easton had ceremonies for dealing with death. Protestant or Catholic, a dead person’s body was placed in a coffin and buried as soon as practicable, for reasons of hygiene, convenience and respect. As historian Drew Gilpin Faust explains: “Redemption and resurrection of the body were understood as physical, not just metaphysical realities, and therefore the body, even in death and dissolution, preserved ‘a surviving identity.’ […][T]he body and its place in the universe mandated attention even when life had fled; it required what always seemed to be called ‘decent’ burial, as well as rituals fitting for the dead.”*

As her coffin was lowered into a plot in Pine Grove Cemetery, Sophia Pratt would have received a fitting funeral.

 

*Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 62

 

 

April 6, 1851

 

800px-Martin_W._Carr_School_-_Somerville,_MA_-_DSC03412

*

1851

April 6 Sunday.  Have been to meeting all day, and 

as usual heard two excellent sermons from

Mr Whitwell.  It rained very hard while

we were going and has rained fast all day.

Edwin called after meeting & Martin Carr &

a Mr Davenport from Attleborough.  Oakes & Oliver

called at Mr Bisbees with them

The Ames family went to both church services today and, as Evelina had come to expect, heard “two excellent sermons” from Rev. Whitwell. Despite the rain, the Ameses had visitors this afternoon. Friends of Oakes Angier and Oliver (3) called: cousin Edwin Williams Gilmore, and friend Martin Carr, who brought a Mr. Davenport with him. The young men all went out together.

Martin W. Carr was the son of “Uncle Caleb” Carr, a long-time employee of the shovel shop, and brother of Lewis Carr, the young man who died back in January from consumption. The family was descended from Robert Carr, an early governor of Rhode Island.

Martin would find his own claim to fame.  A jeweler by profession, he went on to found M. W. Carr and Company, maker of knick-knacks and souvenirs, including “gold and silver jewelry, hairpins, belt and shoe buckles, button hooks and garter belts […] matchbooks, cigarette cases, ashtrays, hatpin holders, letter openers, souvenir spoons, ink stands, magnifying glasses, lamp shades, bud vases, napkin rings and trays with imprints of the homes of American authors such as Emerson, Longfellow and Hawthorne.”**  The factory was a mainstay of Davis Square in the City of Somerville, and Carr himself a prominent citizen involved in many civic activities.  The city honored him in 1898 by naming an elementary school after him. The Easton boy made good.

* Martin W. Carr School, 1898, Somerville, Massachusetts, National Register of Historic Places, now condos.

**Somerville Journal, 1894/Coldwell Banker

March 29, 1851

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1851

March 29 Sat  Have a very bad cold and cough some

but it has not increased with my cold which is unusual

Have taken Wisters Balsam  This afternoon mother

Orinthia & self called awhile in the other part of the 

house  Abby came here about four & stoped one

hour or two, but did not stay to tea  I finished Mr

Ames bleached shirt and Orinthia finished a

coarse shirt for him  Pleasant and fine traveling

Evelina caught a “very bad cold,” her second one since the start of the year.  The first cold she treated by concocting a time-honored home remedy of which her Puritan ancestors would have approved. It included honey, a little horehound from her own garden, and more. The new cold, however, she dosed with a commercial product, Wistar’s Balsam. This bottle of patent medicine was something she purchased “over-the-counter,” as we would say today, with the expectation that a commercial product offered an improvement over what she might have made for herself.  Such a transition from home-made to manufactured goods was very much part of the mid-19th century world in which she lived.

Dr. Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry was the most popular of many patent medicines available in the marketplace for the self-treatment of various ailments. With its “heady melange of cherry bark, alcohol and opiates,” it claimed to have “‘effected some of the most astonishing cures ever recorded in the History of Medicine!'”* With no regulatory oversight or standards to adhere to, it and other nostrums could and did claim curative powers over everything from colds to consumption. A consumer like Evelina could be completely taken in.

How Wistar’s Balsam helped Evelina’s cold is uncertain, but she temporarily felt better for the drugs she imbibed. She was able to sit up with her mother, Orinthia and Sarah Witherell, visit with her niece Abby Torrey, and finish sewing a fine shirt for her husband.

 

 

*footnotessincethewilderness.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/henry-wister-and-the-nations-leading-patent-medicine-dr-wistars-balsam-of-wild-cherry

January 14, 1851

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

/51

Jan 14  Tuesday.  This morning after taking care of my room went

to the store and into Mr Carrs to offer my assistance there.

Lewis Carr died last night very suddenly bleeding at the 

lungs.  Has been in a decline since last July but was about

the house as usual yesterday and conversed with O A and 

his friends in the evening & told what he was going to do when

he got well.  about ten or eleven Oclock called to his mother

to come quick which was the last word & died almost instantly

This afternoon carried Mr & Mrs Whitwell to A A Gilmores.

The “white plague,” consumption, was a killer; today we know it as tuberculosis and, in parts of the world, it’s still killing.  In 19th century America, it was a leading cause of death, the scourge of young lives, particularly.  Its contagious properties were unknown, which helped it spread.  Although different treatments, such as prolonged rest in warm climates, were tried (when possible), no cure for the disease would be found until the middle of the 20th century.  Some people did recover from TB; most did not.

Lewis Carr, a friend of Oakes Angier Ames, was barely 20 years old. He was the son of Caleb and Chloe Carr of North Easton where the family had lived for generations.  His father, known as “Uncle Caleb” in his later years, was a life-long employee of the shovel works and close to the Ames family.  So close, in fact, that two decades later, Caleb would serve as a pall-bearer at Oakes Ames’s funeral.

It is typical that Evelina would help the Carr family at this time.  She and her sisters-in-law were often called upon to sew the shrouds that corpses were wrapped in, which is what she did on this day for the family.