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What to Expect When You're Expecting (100 Years Ago)

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A lot of tragedy could befall a lady in the 19th century. Untold diseases, wars, and hardship could tear the spirit right out of a woman.

But no tragedy was as great as failing to become pregnant. Just ask John Kellogg, the avant-garde physician and proprietor of the famous Battle Creek Sanatorium. He wrote a whole book in 1884, Ladies' Guide in Health and Disease, to help shepherd women through the trials of pregnancy. The first step, of course, was to remove women's selfish fears about dying (childbirth being the top cause of death for women in the late 19th century):

We hope to offer in these pages suggestions which will afford to such wives assurance of safety and so great a mitigation of suffering as will lead them to choose the slight inconveniences of normal pregnancy and physiological childbirth rather than the dismal comfort of a childless old age and the increased liability to disease, which is likely to result from a childless life. [Ladies' Guide in Health and Disease, John Kellogg]

B.G. Jefferis, in his popular Searchlights on Health: The Science of Eugenics (1920) gets even more to the point: Childless people are deplorable.

What is more deplorable and pitiable than an old couple childless? Young people dislike the care and confinement of children and prefer society and social entertainments and thereby do great injustice and injury to their health. Having children under proper circumstances never ruins the health and happiness of any woman. In fact, womanhood is incomplete without them. She may have a dozen or more, and still have better health than before marriage. [Searchlights on Health: The Science of Eugenics, B.G. Jefferis]

If you think pregnancy and potentially dying in childbirth are rough, try the horrible stigma of incomplete womanhood. Women were put here for a purpose, darling, and it ain't self-actualization through personal growth.

Symptoms of pregnancy

First you get impregnated with your little germ-baby, as according to John D. West's Maidenhood and Motherhood, or, Ten Phases of Woman's Life (1887):

The two (egg and sperm) will coalesce and together constitute the germ of a new being. This vitalized germ lodges somewhere in the sexual organs of the female, ordinarily the womb, and from that time begins a new and independent growth. The germ is thereafter termed the fetus. [Maidenhood and Motherhood, or, Ten Phases of Woman's Life, John D. West]

1. Ceasing to be unwell
There were no plastic pregnancy tests 130 years ago; there weren't even accurate tests a doctor could administer to find out if you were pregnant. Add to that the fact that the poor nutrition and exhaustion faced by many women of the age could make missing a period quite a common thing.

Women were therefore advised to look for multiple signs to show they were pregnant. The first sign, usually, would be that she would "cease to be un-well." Or as West phrases it, "the failure of the menses, or the return of her monthly sickness."

2. Gross skin
More from West on signs of pregnancy:

The peculiar, rose-colored circle around the nipple enlarges in size, and gradually assumes a darker hue, and becomes covered with numberless pimple-like elevations... Oft times, the skin becomes loose and wrinkled, giving the young and beautiful wife the appearance of an old, haggard, care-worn woman. In some instances, a considerable growth of hair will develop on those parts of the face which in men are covered with beard. Women who ordinarily perspire readily and freely now have a dry, rough skin, while those whose skin is naturally dry and rough, perspire excessively and emit an odor that is sometimes quite offensive. [West]

3. The onset of a depraved appetite

A depraved appetite is another of the common symptoms... The woman eats enormously, for her, and still is always hungry. This craving will sometimes compel her to get up at midnight to eat. She may desire only certain kinds of food, or, perhaps, drink. If she refuses to satisfy this craving for particular kinds of food, the thought of it will haunt her day and night. [West]

While many doctors of the day advised giving into those cravings, Dr. John Kellogg believes yielding to them is a sign of weakness.

The craving which pregnant women often experience for various articles of food cannot be regarded as an expression of a real want upon the part of the system... In the majority of cases the craving is not so strong that it cannot be readily controlled by a little determination on the part of the prospective mother, and when the article craved is manifestly an improper one, the will should be set actively at work to resist the morbid appetite. [Kellogg]

West disagrees. A woman's depraved appetite should be satisfied, lest the fetus pay the price.

The unsatisfied craving may show itself, as in birth-marks upon the child. It is advisable, therefore, as far as may be without injury, to satisfy all such cravings. [West]

Take, for example, the "hankering for gin" case Jefferis puts forward.

A certain mother while pregnant longed for gin, which could not be gotten; and her child cried incessantly for six weeks till gin was given it, which it eagerly clutched and drank with ravenous greediness, stopped crying and became healthy. [Jefferis]

See? All your baby needed was a stiff belt of gin. And if the expectant mother could have had open access to the stuff throughout the pregnancy, the whole issue could have been avoided.

4. Hysteria
Finally, general hysteria bordering on insanity is a pretty reliable indicator of pregnancy.

Other affections of the nervous system are sometimes developed of a hysterical nature. The wife will have depressing forebodings of impending evil; she feels that some great calamity is about to befall herself or some of her family. At other times, she is incredulous of her own condition. She will often invent the most ingenious arguments to convince herself and others that all her peculiar symptoms are attributable to any cause but pregnancy. A peculiar kind of insanity is sometimes developed, and it may become so serious as to require some sort of restraint put upon the wife's actions. [West]

Forcible restraint to combat temporary insanity was an example of the "slight inconveniences" a woman might need to cope with on her journey to motherhood.

Selecting the gender of your choice

Despite the gaps in medical knowledge in the 1800s, there was one thing all doctors could tell you. It's very simple to pre-select the gender of your child. It's all in the timing. Early eggs are immature and become female. Later eggs are strong enough to become male. Jefferis explains:

The Agricultural Theory, as it may be called, because [it was] adopted by farmers, is that impregnation occurring within four days of the close of the female monthlies produces a girl, because the ovum is yet immature; but that when it occurs after the fourth day from its close, gives a boy, because this egg is now mature; whereas after about the eighth day this egg dissolves and passes off, so that impregnation is thereby rendered impossible, till just before the mother's next monthly. [Jefferis]

There are other potential methods to ensure the birth of either a son or daughter, as desired. Elisabeth Robinson Scovil lists some in her 1896 book, Preparation for Motherhood:

Another theory is, that if the father is physically the stronger, more capable of impressing his personality, a daughter will be born; otherwise, a son. It is also said, that if the mother at the time of conception is excited, interested and anxious to bear a son, she is likely to attain her desire. The age of the parents is supposed to influence the result. If the father is much older than the mother, it is considered probable that daughters will predominate in the family. [Preparation for Motherhood, Elisabeth Robinson Scovil]

Thus, if you desire a son, you need to be a large, anxious, older woman who has intercourse no earlier than five days after your period. Otherwise, which gender you conceive might be pretty random.

Once conceived, a doctor who is skilled in the use of a new tool, "the stethoscope," can determine your child's sex by listening to the telltale heartbeats of the fetus. West explains:

Some physicians who are well-skilled in the use of the stethoscope and possessed of sufficient keenness of ear to distinguish a difference in faint sounds, can determine the sex of the child in the later months of pregnancy. It is by noting the pulsations of the foetal heart. There is sufficient difference to allow a detection, though it requires careful observation. If the pulsations exceed 130, the child will certainly be a girl; if under that number, it will be a boy. [West]

What to avoid during conception

Understand that a child is a creature of spirit, and is therefore affected even before the sexual act takes place between its mother and father. There are situations to strictly avoid when trying to conceive. Says Jefferis:

To obtain the best results, conception should take place only when both parties are in the best physical condition. If either parent is in any way indisposed at the time of conception the results will be seen in the health of the child. Many children brought in the world with diseases or other infirmities stamped upon their feeble frames show the indiscretion and ignorance of parents. [Jefferis]

Hay fever? No sex. Too much pie for dinner? No sex. Pimple outbreak? Oh, you better believe, no sex. And if you make love while at all intoxicated, prepare for the worst. From Dr. Kellogg:

The special influence of the mother begins with the moment of conception. In fact it is possible that the mental condition at the time of the generative act has much to do with determining the character of the child, though it is generally conceded that at this time the influence of the father is greater than that of the mother. Any number of instances have occurred in which a drunken father has impressed upon his child the condition of his nervous system to such a degree as to render permanent in the child the staggering gait and maudlin manner which in his own case was a transient condition induced by the poisonous influence of alcohol. A child born as the result of a union in which both parents were in a state of beastly intoxication was idiotic. [Kellogg]

Alcohol has produced millions of children since the first bits of barley water accidentally fermented 5000 years ago. Think of where the human race would be if that were not the case.

Shocked, sober mother begets drunk baby

Now, we sit back and let Mr. West tell a tale of great import. It is crucial that a pregnant woman be insulated in a pleasant, healthy, and wholesome environment for the whole of gestation. Otherwise, the repercussions could be devastating.

Anatomical peculiarities upon the body of the child are often produced by mental impressions received on the mind of the mother during pregnancy. This is denied by some physiologists, who maintain that such defects, marks or deformities are more the result of inheritance. Careful observation, however, leads to the conclusion that many such phenomena are due to forces that have their origin in the mind, life and habits of the mother while her child is developing within her womb.

A well-authenticated case illustrates the point in hand in a horribly clear and pointed manner. It comes from a small town in New Jersey, where a child was born having all the symptoms of intoxication. The physicians explain that there is no evidence of catalepsy, that there are no fits, no convulsions in the case, whatever. But there seems to be no co-ordination in the movements of the lower limbs. The child's gait is heavy and insecure — a regular drunken reel or stagger. The speech is not only thick, incoherent and rambling, but has all the phenomena of exhilaration and excitement characteristic of the earlier stages of intoxication. The ideas seem to flow rapidly, the senses are acute, but there are the muscular tremblings and the actual shambling gait of the drunkard.

This abnormal condition is thus explained, and satisfactorily: The mother had been married but a year, and she and her husband were greatly attached to each other. She believed him to be temperate; indeed, never had a thought to the contrary. She was compelled to pass a grog-shop on her way, and as she came to it she heard a voice that was strangely like her husband's, singing a ribald song. She was so struck with astonishment that she involuntarily looked in at the door, not to verify, but to remove the unpleasant suspicions which the familiar voice created. There she beheld her husband in a state of hilarious intoxication. This was but a few weeks before the birth of her child. It was a boy, and seemed physically perfect and well-formed. He soon developed the peculiarities noted, which he will no doubt carry with him through life. It is one of the most singular cases on record, and can be accounted for on no other hypothesis than that the impression of horror made on the mother's mind was conveyed to the fetus within her womb. [West]

There it is. Impressions made on the mind of the pregnant mother are transmitted directly to the physical form, even the soul, of the child. But as Jefferis points out, such impressions can be positive, too:

A woman rode side by side with her soldier husband and witnessed the drilling of troops for battle. The scene inspired her with a deep longing to see a battle and share in the excitement of the conquerors. This was but a few months before her boy was born, and his name was Napoleon. [Jefferis]

Napoleon. Wow. I did not see that coming.

Sex in pregnancy

You really shouldn't need to be told this, but in case you are of a particularly base nature and need reminding, sexual congress during pregnancy is a bad idea. It will make your child grow up to be a pervert, for one thing.

Sexual indulgence during pregnancy may be suspended with decided benefit to both mother and child. The injurious influences upon the child of the gratification of the passions during the period when its character is being formed, is undoubtedly much greater than is usually supposed. We have no doubt that this is a common cause of the transmission of libidinous tendencies to the child. [Kellogg]

It would also increase the discomfort and illness suffered by the mother. Even dogs know that.

Morning Sickness is the most common and is the result of an irritation in the womb, caused by some derangement, and it is greatly irritated by the habit of indulging in sexual gratification during pregnancy. If people would imitate the lower animals and reserve the vital forces of the mother for the benefit of her unborn child, it would be a great boon to humanity. [Jefferis]

This is but a portion of the advice doctors doled out to help women produce a healthy, morally sound child in their womb. Luckily, most of the rest of it kind of made sense.

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The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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History
13 Incredible Facts About Frederick Douglass
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock

The list of Frederick Douglass's accomplishments is astonishing—respected orator, famous writer, abolitionist, civil rights leader, presidential consultant—even without considering that he was a former slave with no formal education. In honor of his birth 200 years ago, here are 13 incredible facts about the life of Frederick Douglass.

1. HE BARTERED BREAD FOR KNOWLEDGE.

Because Douglass was a slave, he wasn't allowed to learn to read or write. A wife of a Baltimore slave owner did teach him the alphabet when he was around 12, but she stopped after her husband interfered. Young Douglass took matters into his own hands, cleverly fitting in a reading lesson whenever he was on the street running errands for his owner. As he detailed in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he'd carry a book with him while out and about and trade small pieces of bread to the white kids in his neighborhood, asking them to help him learn to read the book in exchange.

2. HE CREDITED A SCHOOLBOOK FOR SHAPING HIS VIEWS ON HUMAN RIGHTS.

Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

During his youth, Douglass obtained a copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of essays, dialogues, and speeches on a range of subjects, including slavery. Published in 1797, the Orator was required reading for most schoolchildren in the 1800s and featured 84 selections from authors like Cicero and Milton. Abraham Lincoln was also influenced by the collection when he was first starting in politics.

3. HE TAUGHT OTHER SLAVES TO READ.

While he was hired out to a farmer named William Freeland, a teenaged Douglass taught fellow slaves to read the New Testament—but a mob of locals soon broke up the classes. Undeterred, Douglas began the classes again, sometimes teaching as many as 40 people.

4. HIS FIRST WIFE HELPED HIM ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY.

Portrait of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass's first wife.
First published in Rosetta Douglass Sprague's book My Mother As I Recall Her, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Anna Murray was an independent laundress in Baltimore and met Douglass at some point in the mid-1830s. Together they hatched a plan, and one night in 1838, Douglass took a northbound train clothed in a sailor's uniform procured by Anna, with money from her savings in his pocket alongside papers from a sailor friend. About 24 hours later, he arrived in Manhattan a free man. Anna soon joined him, and they married on September 15, 1838.

5. HE CALLED OUT HIS FORMER OWNER.

In an 1848 open letter in the newspaper he owned and published, The North Star, Douglass wrote passionately about the evils of slavery to his former owner, Thomas Auld, saying "I am your fellow man, but not your slave." He also inquired after his family members who were still enslaved a decade after his escape.

6. HE TOOK HIS NAME FROM A POEM.

He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, Douglass used assumed names to avoid detection. Arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass, then using the surname "Johnson," felt there were too many other Johnsons in the area to distinguish himself. He asked his host (ironically named Nathan Johnson) to suggest a new name, and Mr. Johnson came up with Douglas, a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

7. HE'S CALLED THE 19TH CENTURY'S MOST PHOTOGRAPHED AMERICAN.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are 160 separate portraits of Douglass, more than Abraham Lincoln or Walt Whitman, two other heroes of the 19th century. Douglass wrote extensively on the subject during the Civil War, calling photography a "democratic art" that could finally represent black people as humans rather than "things." He gave his portraits away at talks and lectures, hoping his image could change the common perceptions of black men.

8. HE REFUSED TO CELEBRATE THE 4TH OF JULY.

Douglass was well-known as a powerful orator, and his July 5, 1852 speech to a group of hundreds of abolitionists in Rochester, New York, is considered a masterwork. Entitled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," the speech ridiculed the audience for inviting a former slave to speak at a celebration of the country who enslaved him. "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine," he famously said to those in attendance. "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?" Douglass refused to celebrate the holiday until all slaves were emancipated and laws like the Compromise of 1850, which required citizens (including northerners) to return runaway slaves to their owners, were negated.

9. HE RECRUITED BLACK SOLDIERS FOR THE CIVIL WAR.

The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Douglass was a famous abolitionist by the time the war began in 1861. He actively petitioned President Lincoln to allow black troops in the Union army, writing in his newspaper: "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves." After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass worked tirelessly to enlist black soldiers, and two of his sons would join the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, famous for its contributions in the brutal battle of Fort Wagner.

10. HE SERVED UNDER FIVE PRESIDENTS.

Later in life, Douglass became more of a statesman, serving in highly appointed federal positions, including U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to appoint Douglass to a position in 1877, and Presidents Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison each sought his counsel in various positions as well.

11. HE WAS NOMINATED FOR VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

As part of the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872, Douglass was nominated as a VP candidate, with Victoria Woodhull as the Presidential candidate. (Woodhull was the first-ever female presidential candidate, which is why Hillary Clinton was called "the first female presidential candidate from a major party" during the 2016 election.) However, the nomination was made without his consent, and Douglass never acknowledged it (and Woodhull's candidacy itself is controversial because she wouldn't have been old enough to be president on Inauguration Day). Also, though he was never a presidential candidate, he did receive one vote at each of two nomination conventions.

12. HIS SECOND MARRIAGE STIRRED UP CONTROVERSY.

Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.
Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.

Two years after his first wife, Anna, died of a stroke in 1882, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist who was 20 years younger than him. Even though she was the daughter of an abolitionist, Pitts's family (which had ancestral ties directly to the Mayflower) disapproved and disowned her—showing just how taboo interracial marriage was at the time. The black community also questioned why their most prominent spokesperson chose to marry a white woman, regardless of her politics. But despite the public's and their families' reaction, the Douglasses had a happy marriage and were together until his death in 1895 of a heart attack.

13. AFTER EARLY SUCCESS, HIS NARRATIVE WENT OUT OF PRINT.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, his seminal autobiography, was heralded a success when it came out in 1845, with some estimating that 5000 copies sold in the first few months; the book was also popular in Ireland and Britain. But post-Civil War, as the country moved toward reconciliation and slave narratives fell out favor, the book went out of print. The first modern publication appeared in 1960—during another important era for the fight for civil rights. It is now available for free online.

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