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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Farm, Field and Fireside: Health and Hygiene

A guide to health and wellness topics in the Farm, Field and Fireside collection of farm periodicals. Supplements the main Farm, Field and Fireside guide.

Overview: The Science of Motherhood

"The new age of science could improve farm life in many ways. Having healthier, stronger, better babies was just one of many possible outcomes."1

When it came to the subject of child rearing, the farm periodicals promoted a scientific approach, which mothers could learn through the farm press itself: "Science speaks no longer with uncertain sound as to the fact that controllable parental conditions may influence the physical vigor and beauty of the child."2 Advertisements frequently boasted the sanction of science (see advertisement for Cocomalt, "accepted by the Committee on Foods of the American Medical Association"), and indicators of expertise, like medical degrees and university affiliations, became increasingly important in author bylines. Readers in turn appropriated scientific discourses in their own letters to the editor: "Having had some experience in the training of children and from observing others, I cannot state too emphatically my firm belief in beginning from the very first to train the tiny infant" writes Mrs. Geo. H. Gerzema. On the same page a reader identified as "H.E.S. of Ohio" cautions other mothers, "I do not believe in drinking at meals at anytime. It detracts from thorough mastication, which is the great essential to good digestion. This disregard of thorough chewing is responsible for 99 percent of all gastric troubles."3 Most of the material, however, was written by experts with an intent to educate readers whom they often viewed as, at best benignly benighted, but at times criminally negligent (see, for example, "Why Do Babies Die? Mothers through Ignorance Kill their Darlings").

In Farm, Field and Fireside

Searches: child* NEAR health*, motherhood, defective NEAR child*, backward* NEAR child*, colic*, "second summer", "summer complaint", tonsils, adenoids.

Many farm weeklies ran a regular section geared towards homemakers. For example, Mother's Department in Prairie Farmer, The Home in Berkshire World and Corn Belt Stockman, and Woman and Home in the Farmer's Voice. In these sections the editors offered hints and expert advice to mothers on how best to raise their children.

Other terms: "domestic economy", "domestic science", "home extension", "4-H", homemaker, "home maker", homemaking, "home making".

The farm periodicals published a suprising amount of information on sex education and youth sexuality, especially in the Farmer's Wife articles by Dr. Walter Ramsey in the 1930s. For example, in his article "Children and Sex" Dr. Ramsey offers his expert advice on dealing with infant and early childhood masturbation--including a bibliography for further reading.

Diet and Exercise

"Standardization of care--from strict schedules for eating and exercise to continuity in training--could produce nothing less than the perfect child."4

Between 1880 and 1930 there was a rapid growth of interest in what contemporaries called "physical culture"--a belief that good health could be promoted through a properly regulated diet and fitness regimen.5 In the farm periodicals you'll find many articles that promote this movement, particularly in those written for homemakers. These articles focus on the health-giving properties of foods, frequently going into detailed, even if questionable, biological details. Take for example this excerpt from an article on soup: "It is wise to skim off the fat, and yet some fat is necessary to the proper formation of the tissues. Too much fat may impair digestion and generate deleterious fatty acids in the bowels."6 Note that the taste of the food seems to be of auxiliary interest, primarily as a means of inducing finicky husbands and children to eat.

In Farm, Field and Fireside

Terms: nutrition, "meal planning", menus, cretin*, thyroidchild*, "physical exercise", "physical culture", vegetarian*.

When searching the collection, be sensitive to how word meanings have shifted over time, and be careful to use the language of the time you're researching. For example: today we tend to use the word hygiene as a synonym for "sanitary", or "clean"; in the farm periodicals, however, you'll find the word used more often to mean "that which promotes good health"--as in the article cited above, "The Hygienic Character of Soups".

Other Sources

Health. (1900-1913).
Periodical devoted to physical culture.
Jenness, Mabel. Comprehensive Physical Culture. New York: Jenness Miller, 1892.

Other Sources

Chavasse, Pye Henry. Advice to a Mother on the Management of Her Children, and on the Treatment on the Moment of Some of Their More Pressing Illnesses and Accidents. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1871.
Hunter, W.J. Manhood Wrecked and Rescued: a Series of Chapters to Men on Social Purity and Right Living. Toronto: William Briggs, 1894.
"A book for parents and boys who have reached the age of puberty, and in pressing it upon the attention of the public we feel that we are rendering a signal service to the individual, the home, and the State"--[advertisement].
Latimer, Caroline. Girl and Woman: a Book for Mothers and Daughters. New York: Appleton, 1926.
Parker, Edward H. The Handbook for Mothers: A Guide in the Care of Young Children. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867.
Wood-Allen, Mary. What a Young Girl Ought to Know: Purity and Truth. Philadelphia: Vir, 1897.

Further Reading

American Childhood: A Research Guide and Historical Handbook. Eds. Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hiner. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.
Bergheim, Laura A. "Maternal and Child Health Care." Dictionary of American History. 3d ed. Vol. 5. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 273-75.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Deirdre English. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women. Rev. ed. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.
See especially Chapter 6: The Century of the Child.
Green, Harvey. Fit for America: Health, Fitness, Sport, and American society. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.
Holt, Marilyn Irvin. Linoleum, Better Babies, and the Modern Farm Woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.
Levenstein, Harvey. Revolution at the Table: the Transformation of the American Diet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Whorton, James. Crusaders for Fitness: the History of American Health Reformers. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.