We have the boat out of the water, the bathtub filled with water and everything off the deck.  There’s enough peanut butter to survive on and the flashlights are ready and so we sit here in coastal Connecticut watching the winds pick up and hoping for the best.

We hope that our friends who live directly on the shoreline and who have already evacuated will return on Wednesday to find their homes intact.  I hope that this is not the storm when I lose the perennial argument with my spouse about taking down my favorite backyard tree.  He sees it as a menace to health and safety and I see it as the beautiful, iconic sheltering maple that everyone wishes they had in their backyards.

Our little town is already 25% out of power.  We are tiny and have no industry or healthcare facilities, so we are always the first to lose power and the last to be restored.  I am hoping to get this up today, if not you will see it next week.

Of course, all this makes me think of the weather events our ancestors survived without benefit of three days of constant updates from the weather channel.

In Sprague, Washington the Costellos and their kin survived the flood of 1909.

Our Martin relatives first survived the storm that sank their Great lakes schooner, the Jessie Martin, and then the 1894 flooding of the Willamette River in their new home of Portland, OR.

This from  the Oregan History Project,    “In late May and early June of 1894, the Willamette River rose well above 30 feet, flooding the central business district of Portland.  The water remained for days, inspiring some Portlanders to accept the situation with the humor as displayed in this shot of “hunters” taking aim at decoys floating down the street. ”

My Silver relatives got through the blizzard of 1914 in Philadelphia , not to mention the more recent “snowmageddon”.

We do our best to create a safe environment.  Architecture, communication, and law have greatly reduced the loss of life from weather events, but mother nature still decides to do massive damage every once in a while.  I’m sure we will get through this year’s hurricane.  I mourn the loss of lives in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas, and hope everyone on the East Coast has heeded the warnings and reached a safe place.  See you after the storm.

 

On September 17, 1787 the final draft of the United States Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. We moved from being a Confederation of states to a nation with a strong central government.  An election was scheduled on January 7, 1789 and the fun began.

Here we are 223 years later still trying to figure out how to do it right.

In that first election only 10-15% of the population was eligible to vote.  Male, white, property owners were the only ones to have that privilege. My husband has a few ancestors who were in the country by then and fit that description and a few that did not.

Francis Blood a revolutionary war general and prominent citizen of Temple New Hampshire probably exercised his franchise.  Ephraim Bate Bigelow a runaway from indentured servitude certainly did not.

By 1850 property ownership had been eliminated as a voting requirement.  Now many of our white, male relatives could vote if they had obtained citizenship. William Martin and Francis Blood, grandson of the revolutionary War general probably voted.

Francis Blood

But in 1855 Connecticut adopted the first literacy test, quickly followed by Massachusetts.  These literacy tests were designed to keep too many newly minted Irish-American citizens from voting.  They would later be used to discriminate against other groups, most notably African-Americans

The newly arrived Irishman John Costello would not have voted.

The Coles, the Silvers, and the Bublicks had yet to arrive in the United States.

The 15th amendment to the constitution was passed in 1870.  It gave all male citizens the right to vote, including former slaves.  It was the beginning of a long road to real voting rights for African-Americans.

I don’t think we have any African-American ancestors.  We certainly had some ancestors who could not pass a literacy test.

In the 1890’s poll taxes and literacy tests were adopted throughout the South.  The literacy test presented a problem as it excluded many white voters along with the African voters for whom it was intended, so grandfather clauses were adopted, allowing those who could vote before 1870 to continue to do so irrespective of literacy or tax qualifications. In 1915 the Supreme Court outlawed literacy tests.

At the turn of the twentieth century the Western states started granting women the right to vote in state and local elections.

And–ta-da– in 1920 the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution is passed and women get the right to vote in national elections.   Lots of people in my family gained the right to vote in 1920.

Rosa Cole

Celia Mason

Pauline Silver

 

So now all U.S. citizens can vote, right?  Well, not quite. That would happen in 1924, when Indian Citizenship Act grants all Native Americans the rights of citizenship including the right to vote in federal elections. Of course, residents of the nation’s capital couldn’t vote in presidential elections until the 23rd Amendment was passed in 1961.

This of course, doesn’t stop states from attempting to block some of the people from voting. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally put an end to the poll tax.  Somehow literacy tests had made their way back into law and were finally banned in 1970.

And finally in 1971 the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

The national argument over who can vote continues of course, with cases about voter ID requirements moving through the courts as I write this.  We all want our choice to win.  I think the best way to achieve this is not to stop others from voting, but to get off your behind, even if it’s raining, and get to the polls on November 6, 2012; unless you’re voting for the other guy, then you can stay home.

 

On this holiday we celebrate the American worker and his or her contribution to our American life, but the holiday was actually born as a way to appease workers after a brutal crackdown on the workers and the union during the Pullman strike of 1894.

The people who made the Pullman railroad cars lived in a company town. They were paid by the Pullman Company, lived in company housing and had their rent automatically deducted from their paychecks. When the economy crashed in 1893 there were layoffs, and wage cuts, but no decrease in rents.

The workers walked out.  They were soon joined by railroad workers led by the young Socialist leader Eugene Debs. Train service was disrupted.  The mail could not get through. There was rioting and destruction of railroad equipment, sometimes by mobs of non-union workers. 80 million dollars of damage was done and thirty people died.

The strike became a national issue.  Unable to resolve the labor dispute President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and sent troops to disband the strike.

Pullman Strikers Confronting the National Guard

Eventually the workers were overpowered and forced to sign a pledge never to unionize again.  Eugene Debs, defended by Clarence Darrow, saw the charge of obstructing the mail dropped, but spent six months in prison for violating a federal injunction.  He continued to organize. When he ran for President in 1920 on a Socialist ticket he won a million votes.

Labor had long pressed Congress for a Labor Day holiday.  The bill was passed by both houses and hit Cleveland’s desk six days after the end of the strike.  The bill was signed into law as a means of appeasing the labor movement.   The new holiday was seen by labor not just as a holiday, but as a day for organizing.

Today we see Labor Day as the holiday that marks the end of summer.  Kids go back to school, parents breathe a sigh of relief, we grill things and try not to think about cold weather and heating bills.

Of course, genealogists think about their ancestors and I am no exception.  Here are some of our great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and their labors.

Samuel Bublick opened a candy store, what we might consider a convenience store in New York City.

Joseph Mason

 

Joseph Mason worked as a leather cutter making ladies handbags.  He was a wiry little man with arms of steel.

Morris Silverman was a capmaker in New York City.

Morris Silverman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His son Alex would organize for the capmakers union.

Alex Silver

Alex’s son, Stanley would work for the Signal Corp and then as a salesman.  He would be a union steward.

Stanley Silver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Stanley’s daughter.

 

John and Annie Costello homesteaded a farm in Sprague, Washington.

James and Sophie Cole

James and Sophie Cole homesteaded a farm in Primrose, Nebraska.

Edwin Cole

 

 

 

 

Their son Edwin would cook in a lumber camp, pour cement for the WPA and work as a janitor in a hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edwin’s son Merwin would become a union organizer, a carpenter and a contractor.

Marian and Merwin Cole

 

My husband is Merwin’s son

 

 

 

 

 

Stanley’s daughter and Merwin’s son got to go to college and now work at jobs that leave them trying to figure out how to get enough exercise. Wow!

Merwin’s son and Stanley’s daughter post exercise

 

 

 

I started in once again on everyone’s perennial New Year’s resolution–get organized.

The same thing happens every year and every year I forget the reason I failed to get organized.

I started going through old files and then–“Hey, look at this!”

So, today instead of New Year’s resolutions (do I hear you saying thank God?) we have an amalgam of things vaguely related to health and healthcare that made me go, “Hey, look at this.”

I have written before about epidemics and their effects on our families. On a recent visit my sister-in-law brought some things her mother had stored away. One was this page of clippings about the death of relatives in Sprague, Washington. Three members of one family died within three weeks during a flu outbreak in the winter of 1928 and 1929.

Mary McDonald McHugh was born in 1872, the daughter of Patrick McDonald, N’s great-grandfather. She was my mother-in law, Marian’s aunt. I think my mother-in-law may have been a favorite niece and Mary a favorite aunt. Among the things my mother-in-law kept was this dress, crocheted for her by her Aunt Mary. It is about 100 years old now and looks like new, a tribute to my mother-in-law’s ability to organize and preserve.

Mary was the first of the family to die on December 29, 1928. Her one year old granddaughter, Harriet died two weeks later, followed a week later by Harriet’s ten year old sister, Dorothy. Virtually every member of the family contracted pneumonia following the flu and many were hospitalized in Spokane, a 50-minute trip now, longer then.

When one year old Harriet died her sister, her mother, and her aunt were also patients in the hospital.

It is difficult to imagine losing your mother and two children while you are suffering through a potentially life threatening illness yourself.

The other item I found is from my side of the family and a happier keepsake. It is the contract my mother signed with the pediatrician when my brother was born in 1942. The doctor promises to visit once a week for six weeks and again at two months. In addition my mother will bring the baby to the doctor’s office once a month for checkups and vaccinations for the first year. My mother promises to pay Dr. Grossman $45.00 in installments. On the reverse side is a list the payments she made, 14 in all, mostly for three dollars initialed by the doctor.

When I cleaned out my mother’s house I found every utility bill she had paid since she moved into the house in 1954, every card she had ever received and a host of other things that made me crazy. On the other hand I also found this contract and my father’s elementary school photos and my early report cards. So, while I never quite seem to get organized, I am grateful that I have so much to organize.

Henrieta Silver

Marian Cole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week would have been my mother’s 101st birthday.  She died in January, 2010 at the age of 99.  My mother-in-law died six weeks later at the age of 95. I have written about them before on this blog.

It would take a dozen posts to cover all the changes these women saw in their lives, but the past few weeks of the silly season have brought some national attention to vaccines and my attention to the role of illness and vaccination in the lives of my mother and my mother-in-law.

One of my mother’s earliest memories was of the 1918 flu. This worldwide pandemic killed 75,000,000 people.  Philadelphia, where my mother lived, was an epicenter of the flu with 300 people dying in a single day.  My mother was an 8 year old child, but she remembers the bodies being taken away as in this account by a survivor, Louise Apuchase:

 

”We were the only family saved from the influenza. The rest of the neighbors all were sick. Now I remember so well, very well, directly across the street from us, a boy about 7, 8 years old died and they used to just pick you up and wrap you up in a sheet and put you in a patrol wagon. So the mother and father screaming. Let me get a macaroni box. Before, macaroni, any kind of pasta used to come in these wooden boxes about this long and that high, that 20 lbs. of macaroni fitted in the box. Please, please, let me put him in the macaroni box. Let me put him in the box. Don’t take him away like that. And that was it. My mother had given birth to my youngest sister at the time and then, thank God, you know, we survived. But they were taking people out left and right. And the undertaker would pile them up and put them in the patrol wagons and take them away.”

Digging mass graves for flu victims

Attempt at flu control at the Philadelphia Naval Yard

 

Sprague Washington, where my mother-in-law was a child of 4 was also hit by the flu, as told in this article from the Lincoln County Citizen.

 

“Whereas, the spread of Spanish influenza in Lincoln County has created an emergency, and it appears to the County Board of Health that it is necessary to establish a quarantine coextensive with the limits of the county, it is therefore ordered: 1. That all schools, churches and theatres shall be closed, and that no public meetings or gatherings of any nature shall be held. 2. That no private meetings, parties, dances or any other social gatherings shall be held in any private house or elsewhere; that there shall be no visiting between families. 3. That persons shall not loiter about any place of business, or in any post office or other public place. 4. That children of different families shall not play together or congregate, and children shall not be on the street except when upon some necessary errand. 5. That all pool and billiard rooms, both front and back rooms, shall be closed; Provided, that pool room proprietors may sell their merchandise from an open door to persons on the street who shall not be admitted to the inside. These regulations shall take effect immediately and shall remain in full force and effect until such time as they may be vacated or modified by order of this Board. Any person violating these regulations is guilty of a misdemeanor, and will be prosecuted therefore. Done in open session this 3rd day of December, 1918. Board of Health of Lincoln County, Washington. By J. E. Furgeson, Geo N. Lowe, F. A. Hudkins, Dr C. S. Bumgarner.”

The advent of modern medicine has not eliminated the flu, but it has greatly reduced the sweep of epidemics and the number of deaths.  In this country improved sanitation, better and more widely available medical services, and, yes, the flu shot have changed both the incidence and the fear of this awful disease.

Two more diseases affected my mother as a young wife.  In the interest of brevity I’ll only touch on these.  Just before my mother was to be married my father came down with the mumps.  This was a serious disease in adults and could lead to sterility.  Obviously, my father survived both the disease and the threat of sterility.  There were 100,000 or more cases of mumps each year in the 1930’s; now, thanks to an effective vaccine there are fewer than 800.

When I was just a few weeks old my brother developed scarlet fever.  Our house was quarantined.  My father needed to work and lived with my grandmother who would leave food for my mother the front door.  A sign like this one was slapped on the front door and only the doctor went in or out.  As a parent now myself  I can imagine her fear, alone in the house with a newborn and a five year old with a deadly disease.  Widespread use of antibiotics to control strep throat has greatly reduced the occurrence of scarlet fever.  I am so grateful that my children never had to face mumps, scarlet fever, or the other deadly diseases that were regular occurrences in my childhood.

 

The disease that was the true terror of a parent’s life in the 1950’s was polio.  Many, many families experienced polio and everyone knew someone who had survived it.  In my case it was a cousin who survived, but walked with heavy leg braces for the rest of her life.  This was a contagious disease that primarily struck children.  It usually arrived in the summer, making our parents particularly vigilant during our school vacations.  We wanted to play with our fiends and especially to go to the local pool, but during a polio epidemic the pool was off limits, widely believed to be a “polio pit”.  Survivors of polio were left with varying degrees of disability.  In its most extreme form the muscles that control breathing were affected. This required the use of an “iron lung” to assist breathing.  For some only a few weeks were required, but some people spent the rest of their lives in these contraptions.  I believe the last of these unfortunate folks died around 1970.

Doctors and nurses tending patients in iron lungs

Lining up for vaccine in Chicago

I was about 8 years old when the news of Jonas Salk’s discovery of an effective vaccine for this horrible contagion hit the papers and the radio.   Both my husband and I remember standing in long lines at the local school waiting to be vaccinated.  Our parents were jubilant.  There was no complaining about waiting; there was only joy that their children would never have to deal with this horror.

I try to keep politics out of this blog.  I love our strong national discourse even when it gets a little nutty.  I believe it is what keeps my country strong.

Common sense and the ability to do rudimentary arithmetic will tell you that parents with children of vaccinating age are considerably younger than I .  I know that there are those with questions about vaccine safety.  Having to make decisions for little people who depend on you is a fact of parenthood.  I do not presume to make those decisions for anyone, but I do think that this is a case where family history can be useful to young parents.  Before you make a decision not to vaccinate find someone who was born before 1957 and ask  about  contagious disease or a least look at that picture of people in the iron  lungs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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