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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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10 Facts About the Battle of Bunker Hill
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The battles of Lexington and Concord—which kicked off the clash between Great Britain and the colonies—were historically and politically important, but relatively small in scale. The battle of Bunker Hill, however, was another story: Fought on June 17, 1775, it had a sky-high body count. Though the colonies were defeated, American forces performed so impressively and inflicted so many casualties on their powerful opponent that most rebels took it as a moral victory. Here’s your guide to the Bay State’s most storied battle.

1. ITS NAME IS A MISNOMER.

Massachusetts's Charlestown Peninsula, located just north of Boston, was a strip of land with great strategic value. In June 1775—less than two months after the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord—word was circulating that the British aimed to seize the peninsula, a move that would strengthen their naval presence in the area. To prevent this, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety (a patriot-run shadow government organization) ordered Colonel William Prescott to build a fort on Bunker Hill, near the peninsula’s northern shore.

On the night of June 16, Prescott marched 1000 men south of Charlestown Peninsula. Whether because he was intentionally disobeying orders or simply couldn’t find the right hill in the dark, he had his men fortify Breed's Hill rather than Bunker Hill. Toiling through the night, the militia men dug a wide trench surrounded by 6-foot dirt walls. In retaliation, the Brits attacked the next day. Following a barrage of cannonballs launched by His Majesty’s ships, hundreds of Redcoats landed on the peninsula and repeatedly charged the makeshift fortress.

The vast majority of this action took place on or around Breed’s Hill, but the name “Battle of Bunker Hill” remains in use. In the 1800s, Richard Frothingham theorized that the 110-foot Bunker Hill was a “well-known public place,” while the smaller Breed’s Hill was a less recognizable landmark, which might be the reason for the confrontation’s misleading moniker.

2. ONE PARTICIPANT WAS THE FATHER OF A FUTURE U.S. PRESIDENT.

America’s fourteenth Commander-in-Chief, Franklin Pierce, is primarily remembered for signing the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act during his one-term White House stint. Pierce’s father, Benjamin, fought on the rebellion’s side at Bunker Hill and later became Governor of New Hampshire. Another noteworthy veteran of that battle was Daniel Shays, after whom Shays’ Rebellion is named.

3. THAT FAMOUS ORDER “DON’T FIRE UNTIL YOU SEE THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES!” MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN SAID.

According to legend, this iconic order was either given by Prescott or Major General Israel Putnam when the British regulars first charged Breed’s Hill in the early afternoon. Because the rebels had a gunpowder shortage, their commanders instructed them to conserve their ammunition until the enemy troops were close enough to be easy targets.

But as author Nathaniel Philbrick pointed out in this interview, there’s no proof that anybody actually hollered “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” which has been quoted in countless history textbooks and was even riffed in one of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. “We know that someone said ‘Hold your fire until you see the whites of their half-gaiters,' which [were] the splash guards on the regulars’ feet,” Philbrick said. “That doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

4. OVER 100 BLACK SOLDIERS TOOK PART.

An estimated 150 African-Americans, including both slaves and freemen, fought the British at Bunker Hill. Among them was Salem Poor, an ex-slave who bought his freedom in 1769 at the price of 27 pounds. During the battle, he fought so valiantly that many of his white peers later petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to reward Poor for his heroism [PDF]. Another black combatant, Peter Salem, is sometimes credited with shooting Major John Pitcairn, a British marine whose commanding role at Lexington had earned him notoriety in the colonies—though other sources cite Poor as the infamous redcoat’s killer. Salem himself had fought at Concord and would later see action in Saratoga and Stony Point.

5. WHEN THE PATRIOTS RAN OUT OF AMMUNITION, MANY RESORTED TO CHUCKING ROCKS.

The British's first march on Breed’s Hill quickly devolved into a bloody mess. Rather than spreading themselves out, the advancing infantry arrived in a tightly-packed cluster, making it easy for rebel gunmen to mow them down. The redcoats were also hindered by the rough terrain, which was riddled with rocks, holes, and fences. These factors forced the British into an inglorious retreat. After regrouping, the infantrymen marched on the hill once again—and, just as before, they were driven back.

The first two assaults had thoroughly depleted the colonists’ supply of ammunition, leaving them vulnerable. When the redcoats made their third ascent that day, the rebels had nearly run out of bullets. Struggling to arm themselves, some colonists improvised by loading their muskets with nails, scrap metal, and broken glass. As a last-ditch effort, several dropped their firearms and hurled rocks at the invaders. Such weapons proved insufficient and the Americans were finally made to abandon the hill.

6. THE REDCOATS SET FIRE TO NEARBY CHARLESTOWN.

Charlestown, now one of Boston’s most historic neighborhoods, was originally a separate village seated at the base of Breed’s Hill. Once a thriving community with 2000 to 3000 residents, the locals—afraid for their safety—started abandoning the area after that infamous “shot heard round the world” rang out at Lexington. By June 17, Charlestown had become a virtual ghost town. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, American snipers took to stationing themselves inside the empty village. So, to protect his own men, British General William Howe ordered that Charlestown be burned. The troops used superheated cannonballs and baskets filled with gunpowder to lay the town low.

The inferno didn’t spread to Breed’s Hill, but its effects were most definitely felt there. “A dense column of smoke rose to great height,” wrote an eyewitness, “and there being a gentle breeze from the south-west, it hung like a thunder cloud over the contending armies.”

Some 380 buildings went up in flame. Such destruction was without precedent: Although the British had torched some isolated homes at Lexington, this was the first occasion in which an entire village or town was deliberately set ablaze during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the colonies hadn’t seen the last of these large-scale burnings.

7. BRITAIN SUFFERED A DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF CASUALTIES.

Though the redcoats prevailed, their victory was a Pyrrhic one. Nearly half of the estimated 2400 British troops who fought at Bunker Hill were killed or wounded. How many men did the Americans lose? Four hundred and fifty—out of an overall force of 1200. The rebels may have been bested, but they’d also put on an impressive showing against some of the most feared and well-trained troops on Earth. Bunker Hill thus became a morale boost for the patriots—and a cause for concern back in England.

One day after the showdown, a British officer lamented “We have indeed learned one melancholy truth, which is that the Americans, if they were equally well commanded, are full as good soldiers as ours, and as it is are very little inferior to us, even in discipline and steadiness of countenance.”

8. PAUL REVERE LATER CONDUCTED SOME FORENSIC DENTISTRY AT THE BATTLEGROUND.

Fun fact: On top of being a silversmith and perhaps the most famous messenger in American history, Paul Revere was a part-time dentist. He learned the trade under an Englishman named John Baker in the 1760s. Revere’s mentor taught him the art of forging replacement teeth out of ivory and other materials, and the future rebel eventually established himself as an in-demand Boston dentist. One of his clients was Dr. Joseph Warren, the man who would dispatch Revere—and fellow rider William Dawes—to warn some Massachusetts statesmen that British troops were headed towards Lexington and Concord on a fateful, much-mythologized night in April 1775.

During the Battle of Bunker Hill, Warren, a Major General, decided to fight right on the front line with patriot volunteers despite his rank and was killed. When the battle was over, Warren's body was dumped into a shallow grave with another slain American..

When the British pulled out of the area in 1776, Warren’s kin finally had the chance to give him a dignified burial. But there was a big problem: Several months had elapsed and the corpses were now rotted to the point of being indistinguishable from each other.

Enter Revere. The silversmith joined a party of Warren’s family and friends in searching for the General’s remains. They knew they'd found the right body when Revere identified a dental prosthetic that he had made for Warren years earlier.

9. THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE LAID DOWN THE CORNERSTONE OF THE BUNKER HILL MONUMENT.

The Bunker Hill Monument Association wanted to create a grand memorial honoring those who’d given their lives in the Revolution’s first major battle—and on June 17, 1825, 50 years after Putnam and Warren’s men squared off against the British, the monument’s cornerstone was laid at Breed’s Hill. Putting the rock into place was the visiting Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the Revolution who was, as the musical Hamilton put it, “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman.” (For the record, though, he personally didn’t fight at the battle site he was commemorating that day.) Due to funding issues, this granite structure—a 221-foot obelisk—wasn’t finished until 1842. As for Lafayette, he was later buried in Paris beneath soil that had been taken from that most historic of battle sites, Bunker Hill.

10. “BUNKER HILL DAY” IS NOW A MAJOR HOLIDAY IN BOSTON.

In 1786, Bean Town began the tradition of throwing an annual parade in honor of the patriots who saw action on the Charlestown Peninsula. It takes place the Sunday on or before June 17—which itself is celebrated throughout Boston and its home county as “Bunker Hill Day.”

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