Are Your Children Healthy? Diphtheria

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s article discusses the seriousness of Diphtheria in children in the early 1920s. Written by Dr. Walter Ramsey M.D., a leading doctor of his time, he expresses the urgency in which the diphtheria antitoxin must be administered to a child who is suspected of having contracted the disease. With a forty percent mortality rate without the antitoxin, Diphtheria was a dreaded childhood illness. Dr. Ramsey’s article is prefaced by a clipping from a Charlotte, North Carolina newspaper from 1922 illustrating the tragedy of diphtheria. The title of the article links to the clipping.


Board of Health 1923 Diphtheria Warning Poster

Charlotte News, Births to Deaths and Everything Else, March 19, 1922

After an illness of three days with diphtheria, Sarah Hope, 6-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Cooper of Lawyers Road, died at the home of her parents Saturday afternoon. The body will be accompanied to Rockingham Sunday and interment will take place there. She is survived by her parents, two brothers, and one sister.

What You Should Know About Warding Off Diphtheria 1923

Dr. Walter R. Ramsey, M.D.

Twenty-five years ago, diphtheria was the most dangerous and the most dreaded of all the diseases which attacked children. There was scarcely a family to be found anywhere which had not lost some of its members from diphtheria.

In going through the files of the City and County Hospital of St. Paul, Minnesota for a period of ten years between 1887 and 1897, the death rate was between thirty-five and forty percent. That is, of every hundred cases which entered the hospital with diphtheria, forty of them died. These figures correspond to those of the large hospitals throughout this country and Europe.

In 1897, Behring and Roux, two European scientists, published their wonderful discovery of diphtheria antitoxin.

During the following ten years by giving antitoxin to diphtheria cases, the death rate had fallen to six per hundred. This rate has been maintained with slight variations up to the present time. In the rural districts of the United States, diphtheria still exacts a large toll in deaths, all of which are preventable.

Dr. Edwin H. Place of the Boston City Hospital has just brought out the fact very clearly that it is not the size of the dose of the antitoxin but the earliness with which it is given that counts.

If given in the first twenty-four hours the mortality is almost nothing but if delayed until the second or third day the death rate jumps up to seven or even ten percent.

There is a widespread idea among people in general, that the giving of antitoxin is frequently followed by serious results such as paralysis. Observing the use of antitoxin in large municipal hospitals over a period of twenty-five years, I have never seen a single death that could be attributed to the antitoxin but I have seen the mortality reduced in the same institutions from forty per hundred to less than six. The temporary paralysis which rather frequently follows or complicates diphtheria is not due to the antitoxin but to the toxin or poison of the disease which did its damage before the antitoxin was given.

These complications are very much less frequent than they formerly were and if the antitoxin were given in the first twenty-four hours there would be practically no complications. The worst thing I have seen following the antitoxin was a severe case of hives and this is rather common but not dangerous.

It is nothing short of criminal, in the light of our present knowledge, for a parent or guardian to refuse or neglect to have a child suffering from diphtheria given antitoxin and given early.

Antitoxin should be available, free of cost, in every hamlet in this nation.

If all cases of membranous sore throat or even (supposedly) “plain” sore throat, were at once assumed by the mother to be diphtheria and a physician called, there would be very few deaths from diphtheria. Antitoxin should be given even in mild cases.

Diphtheria patients should be kept in the recumbent (lying down) position for several weeks, as the most frequent cause of death is heart paralysis. This danger does not end when the membrane has disappeared from the throat but is even greater during the second and third weeks. Sitting up in bed suddenly is not infrequently followed by sudden death when the heart is weak even when the child is to all outward appearances well.

In cases of membranous croup (laryngeal diphtheria) the membrane forms in the larynx which is the upper end of the windpipe blocking the passage of air.

Every case of croup that does not respond to the ordinary home remedies such as a cold compress to the front of the throat, a dose of ipecac, or the steam kettle, should be assumed to be diphtheria, the physician called at once and the child given antitoxin.

If the obstruction to breathing increases, the child should be removed to a hospital, as it may be necessary to introduce a tube into his larynx in order to save his life.

In all epidemics of diphtheria or other contagious diseases, the source of the milk supply should be carefully investigated, as milk is a common carrier of infection.

In the case of any epidemics, all milk should be pasteurized or brought to the boiling point for three minutes.


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1923 Page 300; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

The Twelve Greatest Things In Life Series–Play

Twelve Greatest Things In Life

Hello, again History Lovers,

We have come to the fourth article in the Twelve Greatest Things In Life Series. This month’s topic is Play and it speaks powerfully of mental health.

While enduring two years of varying levels of Covid lockdown I have certainly noticed the effect that isolation has had on the elderly. No longer being able to be as physically and emotionally involved in activities, hobbies, friends, family, and life has caused folks depression, anxiety, and diminished cognitive abilities. It could be argued that the Covid lockdown took away their opportunity to Play with a serious cost to mental health. As life moves back toward “normal” I hope that Play will serve to improve the mental health of everyone but especially the elderly.



As ancient as Work and Struggle am I. It has been given to me to keep men from growing stale or going insane. They call me Play.

All animate life feels the thrill of gaiety that I inspire. The young things of all creatures I tickle till they leap and frolic.

Little children are filled with the instincts of action which I give them. If men and women were only wise enough to play more and let their little ones play, most children would be good. If I can have my way, I make the bodies of children clean and healthy while they run in their games.

Long-faced people who are dead but not yet buried look with pain upon the recreations of young people. It is because they have grown unnatural and warped.

Without me, Play, people grow old at forty and are octogenarians at fifty.

As for me, I shall never be content till I am a part of all the existence of men and women. They all need me.

The principle of inner growth is in my hands. When people cease to play, they begin to shrivel and die. The great discovery of working folk is that they ought to mingle Play with their toil. I will keep them young, and keep them growing.

Often, I have been perverted when weak men have tried to make me the whole of their lives. Such people, I destroy, for they curse the earth. The Creator at first made all pleasures innocent, all passions pure. Because some foolish ones are destroyed by pleasure is proof of my power, but I wish only to bless and never hurt anyone. My mission is daily to re-create man for his noblest task.

Whenever I am crowded from a palace or humble home, the physician enters. It is a law of Nature that they who despise me must pay the Doctor. If you would digest your food, laugh, and be jolly. Dyspepsia reaps his harvest from play-less bodies.

As the master loosens the tension of the violin strings, so I relax the tautness of human nerves and give them rest through change.

If I could persuade men and women to come out of doors with me, they could close half of their hospitals and prisons in a generation. I am the balance wheel, the “governor” of the human soul. Religious people are not made better through a lack of diversion. Rather are they made to grow unnatural. I could again paint upon their cheeks the roses of health and give real life to their soul. Prayer is not more necessary to life than I. Really he prays best who plays best.

I call men to give the right amount of time to pleasures, relaxation, sports. While they frolic, I will make them “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” and send them back to the great tasks of life with a zest for those who have been reborn.


Home Demonstration Agent Saves Life

The human face of the 1918 Spanish Influenza

Hello History Lovers!

Today’s article was published January 1921 in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women featuring the extraordinary work of a young Home Demonstration Agent during the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. Miss McElhinney was able to help save the life of a seriously ill boy by means of artificial respiration (I’m not sure what AR looked like a century ago but evidently it worked). Her service blessed the lives of many people in her community.


A Home Demonstration Agent Serves Her People

“Miss Flora E. McElhinney, Home Demonstration Agent Houghton County, Michigan, is known throughout her own state and other states for the wonderful work she did for the people of her county during the influenza epidemic of the past two winters. Disregarding the protests of friends, Miss McElhinney went right out into the community that was suffering most from the disease and nursed back to health more than two hundred patients who had to be without the attention of a physician. This brave woman surmounted the greatest difficulties. When the snow was so deep that a horse could not go through, her driver, Mr. George Renti, tramped the snow down to make a path and they went through. When no other means was possible, Miss McElhinney tramped in snow, waist-deep, to get to her patients. When trains were not running, she and her helper braved the storm on a speeder (a small gasoline-powered cart) down the railroad track”.

Makeshift hospital for 1918 Spanish Influenza patients

“The first year of the epidemic, Miss McElhinney established a hospital in the town hall of the community. Patients were moved to the hospital on their own mattress and with their own bedding. The mattress was placed on four camp chairs and this served as a bed. Each bed was screened off and as many as eighty-seven patients were cared for at one time with the assistance of two nurses. More than two hundred and eighty patients were cared for in this way”.

Woman suffering from the Spanish Influenza 1918

“Last year, Miss McElhinney felt that her work would be more lasting if she could go right into the homes, take care of the patients and teach the members of the family how to give the medicine and necessary attention themselves. As many as ten in one family were stricken”.

Bedridden children suffering from the Spanish Influenza 1918

“Sixteen days and nights with an average of one hour’s rest was her extraordinary record during the ravages of the disease. Two hundred and eighty-five patients were nursed back to health, one hundred of whom had pneumonia, as they did not send for help in time. One boy’s life was saved by working all night over him producing artificial respiration.

One of the young men of the community, Mr. George Renti, gave up his work and accompanied Miss McElhinney in her visits to act as interpreter for many of the people who could not speak English, to lead the faithful old horse through the snowdrifts, to drive the car or run the spade, and to him, Miss McElhinney says, much of the credit is due.

To have given aid in a time of need was a wonderful work, but that has not been the end. The lessons in home nursing learned in the community at that time will be lasting. The need for fresh air and hygienic living were lessons that are still put into practice, and the love and devotion of a grateful people have been gained. The community would do anything in the world for Miss McElhinney, and it is thus that one Home Demonstration Agent has reached her people”.

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, January 1921, Page 290; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Are Your Children Healthy?

Hello History Lovers!

Inhaling droplets spread by coughing, sneezing, speaking, singing, or close face-to-face contact is the leading mode of respiratory disease transmission. No, I’m not just speaking about Covid-19. I’m talking about centuries-old contagious diseases that spread into the early twentieth century — tuberculosis, smallpox, diphtheria, and others. The Spanish Influenza, however, came seemingly out of nowhere but followed similar methods in its spread. These diseases were also spread by touching objects, including clothing, blankets, or skin sores, contaminated by infected droplets. Many cities during the 1918 flu pandemic closed theaters and schools, outlawed spitting in public, even outdoors, and promoted mask-wearing in an effort to curb the spread of influenza. A high mortality rate was another common denominator of these diseases within specific segments of the population.

During WW I America lost more servicemen to the Spanish Influenza than in combat due to the close quarters of military personnel, especially on ships, and the fact that there was no effective medical intervention available. In the early 1920s, the science of vaccinations was in its infancy, and even though an antitoxin had been developed for Diphtheria, the disease was still a leading cause of death in children at that time. Vaccinations for tuberculosis and smallpox were not widely accepted or promoted until after WW II.

Scarlet Fever, a highly contagious strain of the strep bacteria, was another potentially deadly disease for infants and young children sometimes leading to Rheumatic Fever. Those who survived were often left with serious health complications such as permanent hearing loss, heart, joint, or brain damage. Unfortunately, antibiotics that could arrest the disease were still two decades away. Couple this with concerns about childbirth and maternal health, proper hygiene and sanitation, the need for accessible health care in rural areas, and a safer food supply within cities, it becomes apparent that early-twentieth-century women needed information. Information regarding what she could do to help mitigate these issues within her family and community. Newspapers and periodicals such as THE FARMER’S WIFE – A MAGAZINE FOR FARM WOMEN were important sources available for the dispersal of up-to-date information to rural women. Below are other examples of the types of information rural women could access:      



“In The Health Of Our Children Lies The Future Of Our Nation”

By Walter R. Ramsey M.D., Associate Professor, Diseases of Children, University of Minnesota

What the States Are Doing — 1926

THE Massachusetts Department of Health is entering the second year of a ten-year campaign dealing with the prevention of tuberculosis. The Massachusetts authorities are stressing the importance of food and nutrition as a means of prevention. A number of splendid pamphlets have been issued in this connection. These pamphlets are free to the residents of the state. Write to the State Department of Health, Capitol Building, Boston, Massachusetts.

THE Maryland State Department of Health is launching a campaign to have all school children protected against smallpox, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. This campaign involves a general program of education as to the nature of these diseases and means of prevention. Making the child fit to fight these serious children’s diseases by inspection and treatment before the beginning of the school year is becoming a state policy that might well be carried out in other sections of the country.

THE Connecticut State Department of Health is attempting to meet the needs for child hygiene work in opening child health centers in various parts of the state. At these health centers, young children can receive free examinations and inspections by their local or state departments. For particulars address Dr. A.E. Ingraham, 8 Washington St., Hartford, Connecticut.

THE West Virginia Department of Health has conducted a Mothercraft correspondence course since 1922. This course includes instruction as to prenatal care and touches also upon practically all of the problems encountered from babyhood up. Many mothers have availed themselves of the opportunity for instruction and they pronounce the course very helpful. Applicants should address the State Department of Health, Charleston, Massachusetts.

THE Massachusetts State Department of Health is conducting an extension course in Mothercraft. This course is in the form of fifteen complete lessons. The course is sold for four dollars. These lessons have been very carefully prepared and will be found most instructive and helpful. For particulars address the State Department of Health, Capitol Building, Boston, Massachusetts.

THE Pennsylvania Department of Health has recently issued a baby book that is not only attractive but helpful. This book covers not only matters dealing with the feeding and clothing of the child for health but also pays attention to the matter of child training and discipline. Pennsylvania mothers can secure this book by addressing the State Department of Health, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

THE Maryland Department of Health is watching over the welfare of the public by exercising very close supervision over the canneries of the state. This supervision covers a careful study of conditions under which canned products are processed and packed, thus insuring healthful products. Before being placed on the market such canned products must have the approval of the state authorities. FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife — A Magazine For Farm Women, October 1926, Page 487; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.