When you were young and had the sniffles, who did you first turn to for help? Most likely it was a trusted family member and probably your mother. That hasn’t changed a lot since the early nineteenth century, in England or America. The heroine in my current work in progress is a nurse, still somewhat a rarity in 1866 New England, so I’ve been researching medical knowledge and how she might have treated various illnesses. My wonderful critique partner recently took me to the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, where I found a very interesting book.
The Family Nurse by Mrs. Lydia Child is a compendium of advice for mothers who are tending to ill family members. Originally published in Boston in 1837, it followed Mrs. Child’s very successful publication of The American Frugal Housewife, a tome devoted to helping middle and lower class women manage homes. I was delighted to learn that Mrs. Child was an advocate for the rights of women and Native Americans, and she was a staunch abolitionist even though it made her a social outcast for a time. She also wrote the first historical novel with a woman protagonist in New England. In fact, Mrs. Child is so fascinating, I plan to devote another post soon on her.
Here is some of Mrs. Child’s advice from The Family Nurse:
“Never meddle with medications, unless some disorder of the system renders them really necessary.”
“The first and most important duty of the nurse is to follow scrupulously and exactly the directions of the physician.”
“Do everything as quietly as possible. Step lightly and gently; avoid creaking shoes, rustling garments, and banging doors.”
The book has a lengthy section on dealing with childhood illnesses as well as a wonderful compendium of various herbs and food stuffs that can be used to soothe. Some sound a trifle alarming, like Irish moss blanc-mange and calf’s foot jelly. Others sound like a child’s dream come true, such as using black currant jelly to ease a sore throat or lemonade to comfort a fever.
I remember my mother let us drink 7-Up when we had upset stomachs; it contained bicarbonate of soda so it could actually help. My husband swears by honey for a sore throat. Any favorite healing treats in your family?