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Family Deaths from “Consumption”

January 31, 2013

In the 19th century, tuberculosis or “pulmonary consumption” was a leading cause of death in the United States. The cause of the disease was unknown (it wasn’t until 1882 that a leading scientist in early microbiology research, Robert Koch, discovered the bacteria which causes TB), the mechanism of its transmission was not understood (it is spread primarily through the air) and there were no effective treatments to cure it when it was diagnosed (the development of vaccines and antibiotics was still in a primitive stage). The Center for Disease Control, the U.S. Public Health service also known as CDC, wrote an article about it and included the following insights:

Discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (1882–1952)

At the end of the 19th century, romantic notions about tuberculosis were replaced by scientific ideas and products: vaccines and therapies, rest cures, tonics, lobectomies, pneumonectomies, thoracoplasties, “artificial” pneumothoracies, phrenic nerve crushings, plombage, pneumatic cabinet treatments, and antiseptic injections into the pleural spaces. Surgeons packed the pleural cavity with fat, paraffin, and even Ping-Pong balls. In contrast to the arts, science and medicine were unapologetically prosaic.

Over a 70-year span, tuberculosis literally transformed Western society. Tuberculosis patients were excluded from many occupations. Married patients had to sleep in separate beds from uninfected spouses and were counseled to avoid sex and especially to not have children. Public health nurses visited door to door, sanatoria were built by the hundreds, and hospitals added tuberculosis wings. Cold water hydrotherapy, alcohol massages, and brisk rubdowns with coarse towels were prescribed. Millions of spittoons and cuspidors were placed in homes and public places. Patients’ bed linens were changed daily and were boiled and laundered separately. Handkerchiefs (for those who could afford them—cut-up pieces of muslin for the rest) were stuffed in pockets before leaving home, then disinfected or burned at night. Japanese “paper handkerchiefs” became popular, leading eventually to the modern “facial tissue.” Tuberculous women had to forego corsets and brassieres in favor of loose-fitting clothes. Life insurance policies added clauses canceling benefits for the tubercular, and hotels and landlords refused to serve them. Compulsory registration, immigration bans, and even interstate travel restrictions were debated. Suicides in towns with sanatoria increased.

Prevention efforts were put in place. National antituberculosis programs were led by U.S. presidents. Ubiquitous “ad campaigns” featured catchy tunes some called “jingles.” Architects designed alcoves to hide concealed spittoons in middle-class homes. Babies were no longer allowed to play on the floor, and mothers were told not to kiss children on the mouth. Some churches abandoned the “common” communion cup. “TB” and “x-ray” became household words. Streets were watered down before sweeping to prevent aerosols. Long “trailing” dresses went out of fashion because they dragged on the ground and picked up potentially infectious dust. Store candies and bakery loaves had to be wrapped; public libraries and their books were regularly disinfected. (1)

I do not know in what ways our ancestors suffered the disease, but I have found two of them who died from “consumption”, what we now call tuberculosis or TB. The description of “consumption” deaths are difficult to read and I assume these dear progenitors suffered terribly.

On this day in 1907, my 3rd great-grandmother, Marianna (Allwardt) Heiden, died from “pulmonary tuberculosis.” Marianna was born in Germany on 12 Jul 1829 and immigrated on the Charles C. Fowler (2) to the United States, arriving on 20 Jun 1857 with her husband Frederick Carl August Heiden and their firstborn son, Theodore Frederick. She was pregnant with their second child, Henry, at the time.

When Henry was born, the family resided in New York but by 1861 they had moved to West Township, Effingham County, Illinois and made their home and farm. “Mina”, as she was called, bore ten children in all. Three of them died in infancy, one died at the age of 7 years, and the other six grew to adulthood. One of the six who grew to adulthood was their daughter Mary who married Ferdinand Adermann, another German immigrant living in the community.

People can carry the TB bacteria for many years and not have symptoms so Mary Ann could have carried the microorganism in her body for quite some time. According to the death certificate below, about four years before she died, Mary Ann became physically vulnerable enough that the bacteria could flourish in her body. She died at the age of 77 and was buried in the Bethlehem Lutheran Cemetery in Altamont, Illinois.

Death Certificate for Mary Ann Heiden

Death Certificate for Mary Ann Heiden

Some years before Mary Ann’s death, my 4th great-grandfather, Josiah D. Bates, also died from Consumption. He was born in Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts in 1801 and spent his entire life in that community. Josiah married Elizabeth Freeman and they had at least two children, sons named Seymour (the future husband of Elizabeth Ann “Betsy” Blue) and Ezekiel. He supported his family as a carpenter.

According to the Massachusetts Town and Vital Records 1850 -1885, Josiah died on 13 Sep 1879 from Consumption (3).

COD: consumption

Cause of Death is Consumption for Josiah D. Bates

The discovery of antibiotics helped make the disease manageable. Even though the number of cases of TB are currently on the rise again, the treatment for it far surpasses was what available a century ago. Here is to remembering the stamina and perseverance of two ancestors who suffered from “consumption.”

(2) Source Citation: Year: 1857; Arrival: New YorkUnited States; Microfilm Serial: M237; Microfilm Roll: 175; Line: 36; List Number: 691. Source Information: New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
(3) Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook).

From → Aderman/Bates

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