Measles and other infectious diseases of childhood have been much in the news recently. Modern day children are mostly free from the epidemics that sometimes threatened the lives of my ancestors. My own children had chicken pox, an illness my grandchildren won’t have to deal with.

Polio was rampant in the mid-1950s, and I remember my mother’s relief when she drove us to Dr. Salinger’s office in New Haven to get our first dose of the polio vaccine. Summertime was the most dangerous season during this epidemic. I wasn’t allowed to swim in the community pool, go to the zoo when we took the train through Chicago on our way to Montana, or be in any large gatherings of children. And to put the fear of God in me about these situations, my mother took me to a trailer on the outskirts of a local circus to I could see for myself a girl in an iron lung.

Pneumonia, diphtheria, typhus, scarlet fever, and measles threatened lives in the generations before mine. The loss of a child to these diseases was common, and no generation before mine was spared. Many of my great-grandmother’s journal entries report the sicknesses of her family and her neighbors. And in 1924 the measles came to visit the Hall farm.

Friday, April 11, 1924 – “This is a fine day. Francis not feeling well – is staying home from school. He has some fever – seems to be ailing. His mother is dosing him with calomel and physic. He thinks he may be having the measles coming on, as they are in the school.”

Thursday, April 17, 1924 – “Francis is broken out with the measles. Dr. is coming out to quarantine us. Suppose we have a siege of it now, for a month or two. Hope we will come out all right.”

Tuesday, April 22, 1924 – “Frances is well again of the measles. We are expecting Lydia and Janet next.”

Thursday, April 24, 1924 – “A nice day. The children are home from school. Lydia and Janet are coming down with measles.”

Tuesday, April 29, 1924 – Pleasant day. Lydia and Janet are still in bed with the measles. Gradually getting better.”

Saturday, May 3, 1924 – A nice day. The children are better. The measles are letting go. All dressed and downstairs but Lydia. She is downstairs but not dressed, lying on the lounge. Think she will be all right in a day or two. They have surely had the measles this time. They have troubled Lydia the most. The mother has taken good care of them. Feels tired from going up and down stairs.”  -–  Lydia Jane Hall

The mother – my grandmother Agnes Hall – certainly would have been tired after nearly a month nursing the sick children in their upstairs beds. Up she went carrying trays of food, glasses of milk and water, and bottles of nasty-tasting medicine. Back down she came with the empty trays, dirty linens, and full chamber pots. There were three sets of stairs in the house and she probably used them many times each day – not an easy task for a large woman with a bad hip.   But she was a good nurse and a devoted mother, and in the end, as my great-grandmother hoped, it “came out all right.”

"Front Staircase," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

“Front Staircase,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

On Wednesday:  Wallpaper

6 thoughts on “Measles

  1. Netzy

    So glad your young relatives won the war on measles. Your painting is beautiful – the stairs really seem formidable for your grandmother.

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks, Katy. It’s interesting and a challenge to try to recreate something I can only see as a vague memory in my mind. Yes – it is sad about the measles.

  2. Bonny Headley

    I just heard an NPR piece about how our attitude toward death has changed so much as antibiotics and understanding if infectious disease have extended life spans and reduced childhood mortality. Long ago children were sometimes not even named until they had survived a year! It must have been terrifying to have these life-threatening conditions visit with regularity. I well recall the polio threat, and the concern that my brother perhaps had it. I guess it was hard to diagnose…or maybe just not something to be shared with a not-much older sibling. Getting the vaccine was a big event, and we were all lined up at school to receive it. No idea if parental permission was even sought. Thanks for a thoughtful post. That diary is a ge

    1. Carol Post author

      Our attitude probably has changed, but I think mourning was most likely just as heartfelt back then as it is now. We are so lucky in our access to ways to keep children healthy, that we often seem to take this health for granted. Thanks Bonny, for reading and for your always thoughtful comments.


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