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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.

 The 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!

Communicable Disease

Advertisement, Vapo-Cresolene - 1906 (Trail End Collection)In 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.

Illustration, Needlecraft Magazine - 1933 (Trail End Collection)For 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.

Illustration, Needlecraft Magazine - 1933 (Trail End Collection)Children 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:

Rosa-Maye has 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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Child Mortality

Photograph, Edna Wulfjen Death Portrait - 1877 (Trail End Collection)In 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.

Today, 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.

Photograph, Hazel Wulfjen - circa 1891 (Trail End Collection)After 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

Illustration, Woman's World Magazine - 1926 (Trail End Collection)From time 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 forgotten!

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If born at the stroke of noon, a baby could be an idiot.

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Feather pillows are death to children.

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The rubber-tube bottle is a device of the Evil One for lazy mothers.

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If baby looks into a broken looking glass, it will have crooked teeth.

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A babe suckled by one breast only is apt to have the habit of squinting.

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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 circulation.

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Jumping the rope is injurious and dangerous amusement, often resulting in disease of the spine or brain.

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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.

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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 confectionery.

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The unrestricted drinking of iced water is a most serious practice among our children. … Every such indulgence weakens the stomach and affects the other organs.

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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.

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The ‘second summer’ is an old fashioned bogie of motherhood … the first summer is far more serious.

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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.

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If by accident or design, you have discovered a diet on which children thrive, be content.

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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

Illustration, Needlecraft Magazine - 1919 (Trail End Collection)When 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:

In some 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.

Even the 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.”

Photograph, Hugh and John Kendrick - 1938 (Trail End Collection)When 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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Lindbergh Baby Syndrome

Photograph, John B. Kendrick and Grandson, circa 1933 (Trail End Collection)In 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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