Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: April 9, 1873: Adolphus feeble

Posted on April 7, 2014

Eliza B. Wheaton's diary, 4-9 April 1873

Eliza B. Wheaton's diary,
4-9 April 1873

When Eliza Wheaton arrived in Uxbridge, she found her older brother Adolphus "quite feeble". Although age may have been at issue (Adolphus was 77 years old and would die in 1875), "feebleness" was a general popular term for illness. During the 19th century, medicine was not as advanced as it is today. Without the many medications and vaccines for illnesses that exist today, people became ill more often during this time and feared death from, what we see as, minor complaints such as a cough or a sore throat.

Eliza Baylies Wheaton mentions in her diary that her neighbor, John Rogers, died from apoplexy. This is the uncontrolled bleeding in the brain that can result in paralysis and sudden loss of consciousness. Apoplexy can be caused when an artery or blood vessel blocks the blood supply that carries nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Within just a few minutes, brain cells begin to die, which can result in death of the person affected. Apoplexy was frequently cited as the cause of death during the 19thcentury.

While visiting Norton, Mrs. Beane’s daughter Nellie contracted erysipelas. This is a bacterial infection in the upper layer of one’s skin, usually caused by streptococcus bacteria. It most commonly infects the skin found on the face and the legs. The nasal passages and the throat can also become infected if the bacterial infection is located in the face. The typical symptoms are skin lesions, high fevers, chills, fatigue, shaking, vomiting, and headaches.

A person’s wealth was often a strong indicator of life expectancy because those with financial resources could afford medical procedures. Although this remains true in the 21st century, many are fortunate to have insurance that covers the cost of medication. In addition, many inexpensive versions of medications may now be purchased over-the-counter.

Another deadly disease that was fairly common during the Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s lifetime was tuberculosis. It was often referred to as “Consumption” because that word described the way the body tissue wasted away. This illness was highly contagious and was caused by various strains of mycobacteria. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but it can also affect other parts of the body. Some symptoms of this illness are: chronic coughing, which may include blood, night sweats, fever, weight loss, and more.

From 1872 to 1873, a smallpox epidemic broke out in Boston. During the outbreak, 3,700 people contracted this illness and 1,040 died from it. Smallpox was very common in the 19th century and affected many people. It is a contagious disease that causes pus-filled blisters to form all over the body. Luckily, Eliza never mentioned this disease, she most likely heard about it because she traveled to Boston so frequently.

Although Eliza Baylies Wheaton did not document that she suffered through any of these horrible illnesses and diseases, she often discusses when the people around her do. In 1873 it was a lot more difficult to treat these illnesses than it would be today, which is why many more people contacted them and passed away because of them. Also, most of the illnesses that were common to contract during the 19thcentury are now not considered an issue or are rarely contracted.

For more information:

Smallpox and the First Vaccine

Riley Swales '17

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