MISSOURI. October 1826. Diet and Health of Frontier Women.
The too frequent eating of meat produces unpleasant results espe. cially among members of the feminine sex, because their household tasks demand far less of the exercise necessary for digestion than the men have in their work in forest and fields and during their hunting It is easy enough to understand that men who have been working in the open since five or six o'clock in the morning, or have roamed around hunting, enjoy a breakfast of meat dishes, pork roast, and fowl toward nine o'clock. But that a city woman (with whom the American women can be compared in delicacy of physique and manner of living) can eat the same food without leaving her rooms is rather remarkable. A number of prevalent ailments are due merely to the excessive eating of fatty meat dishes. As soon as the patients restrict themselves to coffee bread, and butter during the morning, they feel better.
Most of the ailments from which the natives suffer are their own fault. They have little relation to the climate. But the manner of living, which is the common one here, would very soon kill half the population in Germany. Children and adults, whether they are healthy or ill, eat and drink, in summer as well as in winter, whatever tastes good to them. To fast in times of illness is considered great folly. It never occurs to anyone to protect himself against colds either. In every season one sees the children run half-naked into the open from their beds or from the heat of the hearth. Some houses are open to the wind on all sides, and the householders do not take the trouble to guard against the penetration of the cold northwest winds by using a little clay. Every day they would rather drag a cartload of wood to the hearth, around which the Whole family gathers.
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY. August 15, 1836. The effect of climate on the health of Americans.
From what I have seen of the climate of America, I am convinced that it is not healthy. The fierce extremes of heat and cold that are experienced, and the sudden changes of temperature (the thermometer varying sometimes twenty or thirty degrees in one day) must be very trying on the constitution. There is none of that equality of temperature which is so favourable to health.
The appearance of the people, particularly those who dwell to the Eastward of the Alleghanies, proves that the climate is unhealthy. The men are almost invariably bad complexioned, lathy, wall sided, round shouldered fellows, with a tout ensemble adequately described by no other term than Yankey-ishness. I don't suppose that a set of such looking men could be met with anywhere else than America. The women are generally thin and pale faced, with flat ricketty figures.
HEALTH. General Treatise on Hygeine, Climate, Exercise, Posture, Complexion, Diet, Anxiety, and Intemperance.
Some popular American writers have lately laid hold of this subject, to the great advantage of the society in which they live. Dr. Combe's "Principles of Physiology " has gone through several editions; and I know that the demand of society for fresh air and soap and water has considerably in. creased in consequence. But much remains to be done. In private houses, baths are a rarity. In steam-boats, the accommodations for washing are limited in the extreme; and in all but first-rate hotels, the philosophy of personal cleanliness is certainly not understood. The Creoles of Louisiana are the most satisfactory hosts and hostesses in this respect, except a few particularly thoughtful people elsewhere In the house of a Creole, a guest finds a large pan or tub of fresh cold water, with soap and towels, placed in a corner of his room, morning and night. In such a climate as that of New Orleans, there is no safety nor comfort in anything short of a complete ablution, twice a day. On board steam-boats which have not separate state-rooms, there are no means of preserving sufficient cleanliness and health. How the ladies of the cabin call expect to enjoy any degree of vigour and cheerfulness during a voyage of four or five days, during which they wash merely their faces and hands, I cannot imagine. It is to be hoped that the majority will soon demand that there should be a range of washing-closets in all steam-boats whose voyages are longer than twenty-four hours.
The common excuse for the deficient activity and lack of fresh air is the climate. But this excuse will not avail while there are ladies who do preserve their health by walking and riding, and thoroughly ventilating their houses. Any one who knows Stockbridge, and the feats which are there performed by a troop of rosy, graceful girls, and active women, will reject all pleas about the difficulty of getting air and exercise. It is one of the misfortunes of a new country that its cities have environs which are little tempting for walking. It must be acknowledged that it requires some resolution to go out to walk in places no more tempting than Pennsylvania Avenue, at Washington; Broadway, New York; or the trim streets of Philadelphia; or even the pretty Common at Boston. But the way to have good country walks provided is to wish for them. When the whole female society of America shall be as fond of exercise, as highly-principled with regard to it, as the Stockbridge ladies, the facilities will be furnished. In the meantime, there are pretty walks within reach of the whole population except that of three or four large cities. Boston is particularly unfortunate in occupying a promontory, from which it is usually necessary to pass very long bridges to the mainland: a passage too bleak to be attempted in windy weather, and too exposed to be endurable in a hot sun, without necessity. But those who have carriages can easily get transported beyond this inconvenience; and for those who have not, there is the Common and the Neck..
Those who wish for health, and know how to seek it, contrive to walk in summer very early in the morning; like residents in India. The mornings of the sultry months are perfectly delicious; and there is no excuse for neglect of exercise while they last. The autumn weather of the northern States is the best of the year, when the hues and airs of paradise seem shed abroad. The greater number of days in the winter admit of exercise. The winds are too cutting to be encountered; but the days of calm clear frost might be much better employed in walking than in sleighing. No eulogiums on the sleigh will ever reconcile me to it. I dislike the motion, and, after a short time, the jingle of the bells. But the danger is the prime consideration. Young ladies who dry up their whole frames in the heat of fires of anthracite coal, never breathing the outward air but in going to church, and in stepping in and out of the carriage in going to parties, will once in a time go on a sleighing expedition; sitting motionless in the open air, with hot bricks to their feet, and their faces in danger of being frost-bitten. If there be pleasure in such frolics, it is too dearly bought by the peril. If the troops of girls who would mourn over the abolition of sleighing would but try how they like the luxury of daily active exercise in fresh air, they would find the exchange well worth making, on the score of pleasure alone.
The ladies plead that they have much exercise within doors, about their household occupations. Except making beds, rubbing tables, and romping with children, I know of no household occupations which involve much exercise. The weariness which some of them occasion, is of a kind which would be relieved by walking. And all this does not imply fresh air, of which no one can get enough without going out into it, except in some country residences. It made me sorrowful to see children shut up during the winter in houses, heated by anthracite coal up to the temperature of 85 degrees; and to see how pallid and dried the poor little things looked, long before there was a prospect of their speedy release from their imprisonment. Some, who were let out on fine days, were pretty sure to catch cold. Those only seemed heartily to thrive who were kept in rooms moderately heated, and vigorously exercised in the open air, on all but windy and other unmanageable days. The burning of anthracite coal affected me unpleasantly, except where an evaporation of water was going on in the room. I suspect that some of the maladies of the country may be more or less owing to its use.
One proof of the badness of the system of non-exercising, is found in the fact that the distortion of the spine is even more common among women in America than in Europe. Physicians who have turned their attention to this symptom, declare that the difficulty is to find in boarding-schools a spine that is perfectly straight: and when the period of growth is completed, a large majority of cases remains where the weakness is not entirely got over. The posture-making of the United States is renowned. Of course there is a cause for a propensity so general. The languor induced by the climate is that assigned. The ladies not being able to use the same freedom as the gentlemen, get rid of their languor as they may; but not as they best may. Instead of sitting still all through the hot weather, and all through the cold weather, they had better exercise their limbs during some portion of the day, and lie down during the most sultry hours; and in the winter, avail themselves of every opportunity for active employment. If they would do this, it is not to be conceived that the next generation would be distinguished as the present is for its spare forms and pallid complexions.
The apathy on the subject of health was to me no otherwise to be accounted for than by supposing that the feeling of vigorous health is almost unknown. Invalids are remarkably uncomplaining and unalarmed; and their friends talk of their having "a weak breast," and " delicate lungs," with little more seriousness than the English use in speaking of a common cold. The numbers of clergymen who had to leave their flocks, professors their chairs, young men and women their country, in pursuit of health, made me melancholy sometimes when the friends and neighbours took it calmly as the commonest of events. As I am pretty confident that a remedy might be found in more judicious management, this acquiescence strikes me as being by far too Mahomedan in its character. The extremest case that I met with was in a lady, who declared, with complacency, that she could not walk a mile. She owned her belief that the inactivity of the American women shortened their lives by some years; but thought this did not matter, as they were not aware of it at the time.
I should like to see a well-principled reform in diet tried, with a view to the improvement of the general health. I should like to see hot bread and cakes banished; a diminution in the quantity of pickles and preserves, and also in the quantity of meat eaten. I should like to see the effect of making the diet of children more simple. A1most any change would be worth trying for so great an object. What is to become of the next, and again of the succeeding generation, if the average of health cannot be raised, it is fearful to think of. The only prevalence of vigorous health that I witnessed in the country, was in the elevated parts of the Alleghany range; in the State of Michigan; and perhaps I might add, among the ladies of Charleston, who pass three quarters of the year in the open air of their piazzas.
All these means of improving health, though probably necessary, will not avail without some others. There must be less anxiety of mind among men, and less vacuity among women. With a brain fully but equably exercised, and composed nerves, the above-mentioned methods would probably enable the Americans to defy the changes of their climate: but not without this justice to the brain and nerves. It is rather remarkable that this anxiety prevails most in the parts of the country which make the most conspicuous profession of religion. Religious faith and hope should naturally promote health and equanimity by teaching the spirit to repose on immovable principles, and unintermitting laws: by disburdening the mind of worldly cares, and giving rest to the weary and heavy laden. If it does not thus calm and lighten the mind, it fails of its effect. If it disturbs the mental and bodily frame, its operation is perverted. It would be well if this were looked to. The more moderate religionists point to the graves of the young who have fallen victims to Revivals. Let them look at home to see if no spiritual competition, no asceticism interferes with the equable workings of the frame, by which its powers are kept in vigorous and joyous action, without excess.
There is no doubt of this wear and tear from anxiety being the chief cause of the excessive use of tobacco in the United States. Its charm to men, who have not the elasticity of health and good animal spirits to oppose to toil and trouble, may be imagined. It is to be hoped that the enjoyment of the natural and perfect stimulant will soon supersede the use of the artificial and pernicious one.
The vacuity of mind of many women is, I conclude, the cause of a vice which it is painful to allude to; but which cannot honestly be passed over, in the consideration of the morals and the health of American women. It is no secret on the spot, that the habit of intemperance is not infrequent among women of station and education in the most enlightened parts of the country. I witnessed some instances, and heard of more. It does not seem to me to be regarded with all the dismay which such a symptom ought to excite. To the stranger, a novelty so horrible, a spectacle so fearful, suggests wide and deep subjects of investigation. If women, in a region professing religion. more strenuously than any other, living in the deepest external peace, surrounded by prosperity, and outwardly honoured more conspicuously than in any other country, can ever so far cast off self restraint, shame, domestic affection, and the deep prejudices of education, as to plunge into the living hell of intemperance, there must be something fearfully wrong in their position. An intemperate man has strong temptation to plead: he began with conviviality, and only arrives at solitary intemperance as the ultimate degradation. A woman indulges in the vice in solitude and secrecy, as long as secrecy is possible. She knows that there is no excuse, no solace, no hope. There is nothing before her but despair. It is impossible to suppose otherwise than that there has been despair throughout: the despair which waits upon vacuity. I believe that the practice has, in some few cases, arisen from physicians prescribing cordials to growing girls at school, and from the difficulty found in desisting from the use of agreeable stimulants. In other cases, the vice is hereditary. In others, no explanation remains, but that which appears to me quite sufficient, vacuity of mind. Lest my mention of this very remarkable fact should lead to the supposition of the practice being more common than it is, I think it right to state, that I happened to know of seven or eight cases in the higher classes of society of one city. The number of cases is a fact of comparatively small importance. That one exists, is a grief which the whole of society should take to heart, and ponder with the entire strength of its understanding.
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY. September 1838. Health, Mortality, and Childbearing.
That this has been a very unhealthy season is certain, but still, from all the information I could obtain, there is a great mortality every year in the districts I have pointed out; and such indeed must be the case, from the miasma created every fall of the year in these rich alluvial soils, some portions of which have been worked for fifty years without the assistance of manure, and still yield abundant crops. It will be a long while before the drainage necessary to render them healthy can be accomplished. The sickly appearance of the inhabitants establishes but too well the facts related to me; and yet, strange to say, it would appear to be a provision of Providence, that a remarkable fecundity on the part of the women in the more healthy portions of their Western States, should meet the annual expenditure of life. Three children at a birth are more common here than twins are in England; and they, generally speaking, are all reared up. There have been many instances of even four.