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The Dangers of Childhood
Communicable Disease |
Child Mortality |
Old Wives Tales |
The Spoiled Child |
Lindbergh Baby Syndrome
The most carefully tended child will
sooner or later be subjected to disease germs. He goes to school, he travels on the
trains, and his little hands will rest on the car windowsill where perhaps not an
hour before rested hands that had been rubbing diseased eyes. It will never be known
how much contagion has been scattered by trains and trolleys.
Country Gentleman, May 1914
|Between disease, accident
and other ailments, parents always have something to worry about when raising a
child, and the Kendricks were no different. Throw in kidnappings and mental health
issues, and it is surprising that people had children at all!
the late 1800s and early 1900s - before the development of antibiotics and
disease-specific vaccines - parents feared a wide variety of childhood diseases: measles,
mumps, smallpox, chickenpox, diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever, poliomyelitis and
more. In 1900, 61 percent of the children who died in America perished from communicable
diseases. These diseases would often strike with a speed and virulence that seems amazing
to us today.
In 1901, John wrote to Eula about a
scarlet fever epidemic that was sweeping Sheridan during one of her trips east:
The little boy
that died with scarlet fever was in school Friday, became sick Saturday and was
dead Sunday. Before it was given out that the sickness was scarlet fever, a number
of the child’s schoolmates were allowed to go and see him, so you can see the
danger to the community.
a time, parents intentionally exposed their children to several "harmless"
children's diseases such as measles and chickenpox in order to, as one health expert
noted, "get the inevitable over with as soon as possible." By the 1920s and 30s,
this practice had finally begun to go by the wayside; too many of these needlessly
exposed children succumbed to the diseases. It was too easy to catch the diseases
just by doing the things children did. In 1938, John and Hugh Kendrick contracted
chickenpox. As Manville wrote to his mother, John caught the disease at school, and
passed it along to his younger sibling:
We have been running a
sort of hospital here. First, John had chicken-pox which did not bother him much,
though he had a good case. Then, poor little Hugh got it; and both Dr. Crane and
Gen. Cumming said that they had never seen a worse case. One could not have put
one’s finger down on the center section of his trunk without touching a pock. ...
Naturally, the itching nearly drove him frantic. However, he hardly complained
once save to say when it “hurt,” and was time to put on some more lotion.
living in cities and towns could expect care from a doctor or nurse. Because
physicians were few and far between in rural areas, however, ranch parents had to do
their own diagnosing and doctoring. In March 1902, when both her parents were out of
town, Rosa-Maye Kendrick came down with a mystery illness. Her grandmother, Ida
Wulfjen, was caring for the child at the time and despite her best efforts was
unable to figure out what was wrong:
been quite unwell all week with sore throat inside and out. I have done every
single thing to little avail. I thought at first it might be mumps or measles but
it don’t seem to develop into anything. She has no fever and is quite happy but
has little appetite. I will take her to the Dr. if she don’t be a better girl. She
has no cold, but seems to be suffering with catarrh somewhat. Now don’t be uneasy
for she plays around all the time.
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1900, nearly 165 of every 1,000 children born in America died before their first
birthday (in some cities this number was as high as 300). If they survived infancy,
children still had to fight to survive: at the turn of the century, 20 percent of
the nation's children died before the age of ten. Most were victims of contaminated
water, unsanitary living conditions, unpasteurized milk and poor nutrition, as well
as contagious diseases.
America's infant mortality rate hovers around 7 percent. This marked decrease in
childhood death is due in part to a better understanding of nutrition and public
health (1910s and 20s) and the introduction of antibiotics (1930s and 40s). In
addition, many of the childhood diseases that killed children in the early 20th
Century have been practically eradicated in the United States. Instead of 61 percent
of childhood deaths being caused by disease, only two percent can now be attributed
in infectious disease.
Many children used to die from diseases that were not always fatal in
adults. Ida Wulfjen, for example, lost her two youngest children, Edna and Hazel, to
typhoid fever. Usually caused by the consumption of contaminated water, typhoid
frequently came in waves, striking a community without warning. Though some adults
died, it was usually the children that suffered most.
Hazel died in December 1892, Ida and her husband Charles were nearly inconsolable,
as Ida told Eula in May 1893:
We were out to see the little mound yesterday. The lot had been
sown and graded, so I suppose the grass will soon be up. Poor papa; he walked up
and down crying like his heart would break. It almost kills him to give her up.
The little darling was always at his heels. Oh! How are we to live without her.
Like most women who had lost a child, Ida hid her grief and told few
of her deep anguish. She was able to share some of her feelings with Eula, however,
who had been like a second mother to little Hazel:
There is a pang in my heart that nothing
can take away and as the months wear on the dread thought of a year having come
between me and my angel almost kills me at times. Very few nights that my head is
laid upon my pillow that the heart does not ache to burst. I say nothing and no
one knows my feelings. I stand and look at the children as they come and go to
school and I find myself saying, "Oh God, why did you take my Baby." The outside
world thinks perhaps my grief grows lighter but to me it has been unusually heavy
the past few weeks. The only way I can bear it is to look at friends who have gone
through the same and say it is natural we should die.
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Old Wives Tales
immemorial, there have been advice columns, pamphlets and handbooks dedicated to the
proper care and feeding of children. Some of the following snippets from the 1890s – when
John and Eula were raising Rosa-Maye – still make sense today; others are better off
If born at the stroke of noon, a baby could be an idiot.
Feather pillows are death to children.
The rubber-tube bottle is a device of the Evil One for
If baby looks into
a broken looking glass, it will have crooked teeth.
A babe suckled by one breast only is apt to have the habit of squinting.
The juvenile feat
of standing on the head has injurious effects. Blood appears to gush out of their eyes and
cheeks. It congests the brain and is injurious to the optic nerve and impairs the
Jumping the rope is
injurious and dangerous amusement, often resulting in disease of the spine or brain.
The only fruit
which is safe to allow a child whose diet is primarily milk, is blackberries. These may be
given even where there is serious stomach or intestinal derangement.
Taffy, stick candy,
gumdrops, penny candies, all-day suckers, licorice whips, peppermint drops, ginger drops,
lemon drops, bonbons, and sugar plums are all fatal poisons concealed in pretty
drinking of iced water is a most serious practice among our children. … Every such
indulgence weakens the stomach and affects the other organs.
Homemade root beer
is probably the most wholesome beverage that can be taken in the quantities demanded by
the hot-blooded young romps who will indulge in the most extraordinary exercise, even when
the thermometer is in the nineties.
The ‘second summer’
is an old fashioned bogie of motherhood … the first summer is far more serious.
The wonder … is not
that so many children die every summer but that so many live, what with ignorant mothers,
careless mothers, and experimenting mothers.
If by accident or
design, you have discovered a diet on which children thrive, be content.
Whatever you do,
beware of attempting to bring up your child on a theory. Use common sense. God gave it to
you for the benefit of your children.
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The Spoiled Child
Manville and Diana Kendrick were raising their children in the 1930s, they had to worry
about the mental health of their tiny progeny as well as their physical health. In magazine after magazine,
child psychologists warned parents of a variety of preventable mental difficulties that
could impact a child’s overall development. One was the “nervous” child – the child that
clung to its parents, didn’t eat well, and refused to mix well with others. Another was
the “spoiled” child – the child that was overly independent, demanded its own way, and
made a grand fuss when that way was not made clear. That was the type of behavior with
which Manville and Diana were most familiar, especially in their oldest child, As Manville
reported to his mother in 1933:
ways, the little feller is quite spoiled, and Diana is having her troubles getting along
with him. He is bound to do what he wants, and she is just as bound to talk him out of it.
… He is really quite “sot in his ways” just like his old man, and disinclined to
contemplate the idea that one will not let him do as he wishes.
hired help got in on the spoiling. After John was born in 1931, Trail End’s cook, Anna
Simmerman, sent Diana Kendrick a note stating that she would “rather hold him than cook.”
Hugh Kendrick came along in 1934, Manville and Diana found themselves with two energetic
little boys instead of one. It was a relief when John started school full-time, leaving
Hugh to fend for himself:
John has started to school again after the
holidays. ... With John out of the house most of the day, Hugh is put to it to keep
himself amused. I must say that he has gotten in mighty little trouble in the process, so
far. The latter usually starts when the two of them are together.
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the early 1930s, America experienced a rash of kidnappings, many of them involving
relatives of high-profile men. Following the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932, U. S.
Senator John Kendrick wrote to Manville and Diana regarding the safety of J. B.
Kendrick II, who was not only his grandson, but the grandson of U. S. Surgeon
General Hugh Smith Cumming as well:
As you would
understand, we are all heartsick and greatly disturbed over the loss of the
Lindberg baby. … I am afraid for you and Diana to go very far from little John.
The slimy trail of the serpent is in evidence all about us. Scarcely a morning
paper arrives that does not furnish in big headlines, news as to another raid upon
somebody’s loved ones. “I have in the past felt great anxiety about the welfare of
my grandboy, but because of the trend of the times and the more definite
understanding as to the golden prize involved in this baby boy I am now more than
ever concerned as to his safety. “Let us hope that at some time in the near future
the country will come to a sane and rational attitude of mind, when the children of
our families will be safeguarded.
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