True story of a community health care provider 100 years ago

I have shared before stories about my maternal grandmother’s family. She grew up in southwest Georgia in a small community along with her thirteen siblings, with one passing at birth and another dying as a young adult. My grandmother shared that her Mama was the chief health provider in the community and would accompany the visiting doctor when he would make his rounds once a month.

The following two paragraphs were written by my third cousin based on interviews with his grandmother (a sister of my grandmother) and her brother who was the youngest of the surviving children. It is further evidence of their Mama’s health care role, using a very appropriate historical marker in one episode.

“There was a bad flu epidemic in 1918 and five of the children were in the bed with the flu at one time. People all around were dying, and my great uncle tells me he vividly remembers the hearse passing their home several times during this flu epidemic. The hearse was a glass enclosed carriage drawn by big white horses. My great grandmother was able to get her children well by using a home remedy of kerosene, turpentine and tallow. She made bibs, soaked them in the above mixture and placed them on the sick children. Also, they had cedar water buckets that were smaller at the top than bottom. They would fill the eight-to-ten- quart bucket with water and put a little fresh turpentine in it and drink it for colds.

Other home remedies included using the gland from a hog and placing it on the clothes line to dry out. When it dried, my great grandmother would boil the gland and remove the jell which was used for arthritis. She called this jell ‘pizzle grease.’ She did not understand or have the education to know why it worked, she only knew it did. Today this ‘pizzle grease’ is know as ACTH which is a polypeptide hormone of the anterior part of the pituitary gland that stimulates hormone production of the adrenal cortex and is used to treat arthritis.”

Let me add one more story that I have shared earlier. The youngest sibling noted above liked being a gymnast. When he was an adolescent, he was swinging his whole body over a single bar like the male gymnasts do. He fell and knocked out his front teeth. Mama asked him to sit down as she cleaned the teeth and boiled some water. Once boiled, she put a clean towel in the water and rinsed it with cold water. She said put this in your mouth as hot as you can stand it. This was to swell his gums. Once swollen, she jammed the cleaned teeth back into the gums and the teeth held.

These stories amaze me at her ingenuity and practicality. A couple of sidebars to this story, my great grandmother married when she was only fourteen, begetting fourteen children. My third cousin also writes the family survived the depression, as did many farmers, by growing their own crops, raising their own meat sources and making their own soaps. He noted they only bought sugar and coffee. They had no electricity using kerosene lamps and wood stoves (in a separate from the house kitchen). And, water was stored in two 66 2/3 gallon barrels they called Hogsheads, which sat in the covered walkway to the kitchen.

We should remember these stories when we complain the wi-fi is down or the power goes out. Please feel free to share your reactions and own stories in the comments.

6 thoughts on “True story of a community health care provider 100 years ago

  1. Such a simpler time, compared to our chaotic lives today. As you say, if the internet is down, or the store doesn’t have our particular brand of something, we are in a panic … rather pathetic, if you think about it, how dependent we have become on “things”, especially things that require electricity or other technology. Thanks for sharing these stories, Keith!

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