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Pregnancy and Childbirth

Babies & toddlers   miscarriages  childbirth  family planning

EJ Phillips certainly never uses the word "pregnant" but has a great many euphemisms for labor and birth – ‘picnic’, ‘squalls’, ‘trial’ and ‘the finale’. But she doesn’t avoid the subjects either and her advice seems reasonably straightforward and sensible. I’d like to know more about the contents of her recipes for morning sickness though. Are there good accounts of 19th century obstetrical practice or childrearing treatises?

Morning sickness

Boston April 29, 1890  I hope you are not suffering so much with biliousness. 

Boston, May 9th, 1890   I hasten to assure you and Neppie that there is no danger in the nausea she suffers from.  It is very unpleasant but not unusual or dangerous.  Still I think she ought to select the doctor she wants and have an interview with him.  Doctors prefer to know sometime beforehand, and arrange the time so as not to interfere with other cases.  Find out what doctor she prefers and you go and speak to him.  He will give her something to relieve the nausea.  

She must be near quickening.  She may faint over that.  I never did, but it is a very common occurrence.  Do not be frightened over it, but the very best way of all is for her to see a doctor.  He will not tell anyone if she still wants to keep it quiet.  She does not want to worry her Mother, but I guess her Mother suspects it before this.   

Homeopathic "Nux vomica" would relieve her, I think, but the surest and safest and best way is for her to consult a physician.  She will have to at last, and might as well begin at once.  

Mrs. [Nellie Dolman] Law's doctor was spoken to six weeks or two months ago.  Dr Guernsey is to take the case -- if he gets back soon enough in Septr from Europe.  If not, Doctor Ingder will be called.  Dr Guernsey diagnosed her case as not later than the 15th of Septr.  I guess Neppie will go a month beyond that. 

In the meantime, as things transpire, I will let you know, but anyway it will be too long to wait for my arrival before consulting a doctor -- so do that at once. 

He may not want to see Neppie -- just tell him how often the nausea affects her, and how her general health is, and he will prescribe without seeing her.  Then I will see him when I am there, and Neppie can see him in my presence.  Until you see the doctor give her a very little dose of bicarbonate of soda -- a quarter of a teaspoonful in half a tumbler of water. 

Do not let Neppie carry coal up from the cellar.  That is the worst thing she can do -- other exercise is good for her -- and walking is good.  I am glad her house is so pleasantly situated. She can go outdoors so much, and that is good for her.  No more this time, but love and Kisses to you from your loving Mother  

Boston Mass, May 10, 1890  My dear daughter Penelope, Albert's letter rec’d yesterday – made me feel very sorry for you. I had hoped by this time the disagreeable accompaniment of nausea had subsided, but by Albert’s writing to me I imagine that it has increased. While I do not fear any dangerous results – yet I am sure it must be very distressing and you ought to have a physician’s advice at once – he will give you something to correct the trouble and enable you to partake and hold a good square meal.

Do not let any girlish modesty stand in the way of your good health. I might give you a dozen recipes, and none of them help you. It will be three weeks before I can be with you, and it will not do for you to suffer all that time. Do at least let Albert get a doctor to give you some medicine if you do not want to see one yourself, but I think you had better see one, and make your October arrangements with him.

You will feel more confidence in yourself when you have consulted with a doctor. I think you told me you would have Dr. Douglas. He has a good natured face and you need not hesitate to speak to him. You must not be nervous when strange pains or sensations come. That is nature working her way for the final delivery. I think your dear Mama must suspect the state of things by this time – and perhaps will feel badly if you do not tell her. I hope soon to hear that you have consulted a doctor and are feeling better. 

Boston, May 15, 1890  I am glad to hear from both of you -- that you are feeling better -- as the days pass by, I think the nausea will be less frequent -- 

"A slight miscarriage"
EJP to Albert, San Francisco, July 8, 1890  Had two letters from Hattie this Morning from Cape May.  She, John and Jack went there on the 1st.  Previous to going Hattie had been quite ill, and had had a doctor from Tacony attending her.  The trouble was a slight miscarriage.  [Hattie] has been weighed at Cape May and only weighs 116 pounds.  Poor child, she does not seen to gain her girlhood strength at all.

EJP to Neppie, San Francisco, July 10, 1890  In Hattie's letter of the 2nd she surprised me very much by the news it contained.  She had not told me of her condition. though she suspected it while I was there, but was taken sick soon after I left and had to send for a doctor from Tacony who gave her some quieting medicine, but a thunderstorm coming up during the night she became very nervous, and in the Morning was delivered.  Of course it was only a matter of five or perhaps four weeks, but it made her sick and nervous. 

She writes that she feels all right, but the doctor told her not to go in bathing for two weeks for fear of catching cold.  That will seem a long time for her, for she is so fond of sea bathing.  I am very glad her mishap was all over before she left home.  ...I hope, dear child, you are keeping in good health and that by this time [Neppie's] "Mama" does know ...  hoping that all is progressing well for the great event in Octr 

Phila Pa May 13th 1897 We are not quite so [well] here. Hattie is in bed expecting to have a mishap.  Doctor says it may take a week, but it is sure to come.  She is not suffering very much, but water came about 8 last Evening.  Dr.  thinks there are no alarming symptoms and all will pass off naturally.  I hope so, but she is not strong. I am glad dear that you have your housecleaning done.  Hattie has not and that worries her.  You will have enough to keep you busy for the next two months -- births and marriages make a busy time. 

Philadelphia Pa June 7th 1897 Hattie asked me this Afternoon if I had answered your last letter.  I told her I thought I had but was not really sure.  So for fear I did not write I will scratch a few lines now to tell you we are getting along slowly and Hattie has made up her mind to carry her burden until November.  And today has been preserving strawberries, so if she gets through the next few days she will be safe then until the proper time. She tells me to say they have been having considerable expense with repairs to the house &c and this unexpected increase will require another saving of the mighty dollars to defray doctors & nurses bill &c, &c.

Does the "unexpected increase" refer to doctor's bills related to the threatened miscarriage, or to the unplanned nature of Melanie?

Late pregnancy and childbirth
San Francisco, July 29, 1890  Nellie [Dolman Law] keeps pretty well.  She is in the City and her Mother called on her last week.  Said she was getting tired of waiting and wished it [pregnancy] was over.  She had been having a little backache.  She has everything ready and the event is expected before the 15th of Sept.   

Chicago, Sept, 15, 1890 Nellie had two doctors [when she had her baby], not that it was necessary, but I suppose there was some style to it,  Doctors Kneu and Mohr.  Hattie thinks Dr Kneu is the one who operated on Charles Norris's throat while he was at Chestnut [St. Theatre]

Chicago, Sept. 18, 1890  All are well and busy getting ready to go to the wedding. Nellie is going.  A very foolish thing for her to do I think. [Nellie Dolman Law was very pregnant.] 

Phila Pa June 17th/97 Yours rec'd containing the welcome news of Jess [Fouquet]' safe delivery and Con [Macardell]'s wedding.  Two great events to be disposed of on the same day.  Neppie must have had her hands full, and must feel pretty tired now the excitement is over.  I hope she does not feel any the worse for it but that a rest of two or three days will make her all right again.

Hattie at times seems to be well but at others is nervous and not at all like herself, but I think she will now go on until November.  I have asked her what she will do in regard to going to see you in July.  She thinks it is impossible under present state of affairs.  She has an idea she might be taken ill at any moment and would not like to be absent from home. 

Ted Nickinson (1890-1948)
Philadelphia, Oct 9, 1890  I hope Neppie is getting along nicely and the baby is well and good.  What is his name to be?  And was he born on the 6th or the 7th?  Of course your telegram came on the 7th and was dated 9:43 AM.  .. Hope the excitement of Neppie's illness did not make [her mother]  Mrs. Macardell ill. 

second letter, same day Oct 9, 1890   When the Postman came at  3 PM today he brought your letter which I was very happy to receive, for I had been wondering if Neppie had suffered very long.  I am glad she had so short a time.  Of course her suffering was none the less while it lasted, but she would have more strength to endure it. ..I am glad she is pleased with her nurse.  She had a treasure in her doctor who took hold and washed and dressed the boy so nicely.  Not many doctors so good natured.

Philadelphia, Oct 16, 1890  I do not want Neppie to write to me for a month at least.  Her eyes must not be tired by either reading or writing until she is quite well and strong. ...I am very glad and grateful that Neppie got through so well.  This is the 9th day and now she will, I hope begin to grow strong and have no setbacks. 

Philadelphia, Oct  20, 1890  Was sorry indeed that Neppie had such an unpleasant setback, but hope all is well by this time ... I am very desirous of seeing my second grandson and his Mother and cannot wait any longer.  Besides I want to see how my son looks as a father.

Philadelphia, Oct. 27, 1890   I want you to see Dr Douglas and ask him to give Neppie a tonic to brace her up.  She is weak and consequently nervous.  I wanted to talk to you about it on Sunday, but having company to the train prevented it.  I think she needs a little more medical attention.  And tell him (the doctor) to ask her and the nurse everything, for unless he questions her, Neppie is too shy & modest to tell him everything.  She complains of the end of her spine being sore - that should not be. I imagine she does not confide in her Mother for fear of worrying her - and she is right - but she should confide in the doctor, and with his help regain her strength for her dear little son's sake.

Ted as a baby

Elizabeth Ellen Dolman (1891-1892)
New York, Feb. 18th, 1891 You ask me what I think of your visiting Hattie in April.  Well, my dear, I should be very much pleased to have you go, and see no reason why you should not.  The doctor says Hattie will not be sick before the 3rd of June.  Mrs. Dolman says 28th of May.  Whichever is right you could have a nice little visit with her before the "picnic" comes off. 

Washington DC, April 25, 1891  I think Hattie is getting along very nicely - I think has now gained strength to enable her to get through her approaching sickness [baby due]. She was at Mrs. Dolman's on Thursday and thinks she perhaps may not again go so far until the "picnic" is over. Anytime after the 6th of May we may expect squalls. 

Buffalo, May 15, 1891  All will depend upon how well Hattie behaves in getting through the coming ordeal [childbirth].  She writes she is not at all nervous, only weighty. 

Philadelphia, May 27th 1891 Our new baby has not yet arrived but is daily expected.  Hattie is very tired waiting, but is in pretty good health, and does not appear to be nervous over her approaching trial.

Philadelphia Pa May 28th/91 Your niece arrived at 11:30 this Morning.  She is a fine strong little lady.  Weighed 7 1/2 lbs.  Hattie is quite weak and faint as yet, but all I hope go well.  Love from all to all Mother 

Babies: Elizabeth Ellen   Health & Medicine Elizabeth Ellen

Philadelphia, June 26, 1892  Yesterday Mrs. James Dolman who had been ill since Thursday gave birth to a stillborn daughter.  It was a question between the life of the Mother & child and the Mother was saved.  Hattie went to inquire how she was this Morning. Saw the doctor and he was very well pleased with Millie's condition. Said she had a good full pulse and no fever and he hopes to bring her through to health. The baby will be buried this Afternoon. Six months yesterday, Jim [Dolman] was buried. 

Melanie Nickinson Dolman (1897- 1978)
Phila Pa Novr 24th 1897 One month from today will be Christmas or rather tomorrow and your anniversary will be on Sunday the 28th.  That is the date when our little stranger is expected.  Will be nice if it would arrive that day.  But Man proposes and a Higher Hand Disposes and we must be satisfied with His Will!  Whatever it may be and be thankful.

Hattie is feeling well under the circumstances, and is quite lively.  Does not appear to be as nervous as she did some weeks ago.  Still I guess she will be glad when all is over.  Hattie, John and Jack join me in love and Kisses to you all and a great big hug for Ted.  

Dec 2nd 1897 Your Sister had a pleasant arrival at 7:35 this Morning.  Weighs 9 lbs, strong and healthy.  Is a girl.  Name not yet decided upon.  Will let you know when it is.  Mother & daughter doing well.  Love & Kisses to you all from Mother Excuse haste. 

Melanie - as a baby

Family Planning
Alluded to only obliquely, if at all.

Ran across the following looking for Gilbert & Sullivan information  1881 was a census year in UK. The results were not published for five years, but when they were the census authorities deplored the high proportion of unmarried women of childbearing age and the growing fashion among parents for spacing out the birth of their children. It was noted that this was most common among the rich and better educated and that: "the poorest third of the nation is breeding and rearing two thirds of the British race." It went on: "Family limitation might be appropriate for atheists, papists, and Frenchmen, but not for English artisans and yeomen, whose historic mission is to populate the globe." Patience Discussion, Gilbert and Sullivan http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/patience/discussion/misc.html#1881

Bibliography
Brodie, Janet Farrell, Contraception and abortion in nineteenth-century America,  Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1994.

Brodie recommends the following books and papers: Contraception and Abortion in 19th century America, Sunshine for Women, 1994   
Linda Gordon, "Why Nineteenth Century Feminists Did Not Support 'Birth Control' and Twentieth Century Feminists Do: Feminism, Reproduction, and the Family"
James W. Reed, From Private Vice to Public Virtue: The Birth Control Movement and American Society since 18301978
Carl Degler, At Odds: Women and the Family from the Revolution to the Present (1980)
James Mohr, Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy (1978)      
Norman E. Himes, Medical History of Contraception (1936)      
Peter Fryer, The Birth Controllers (1966)

"The Rare Book Room of the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine of the Harvard University Medical School has the largest number of nineteenth-century works giving reproductive control advice. There are also important holdings at the American Antiquarian Society, the National Library of Medicine, and the Library of Congress." Brodie, p. xvi  

Angus McLaren, A History of Contraception from Antiquity to the Present Day, Blackwell, 1990

"In the nineteenth century, America and western Europe entered a new demographic age. These societies had never produced the maximum number of children biologically possible, but fertility rates were from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century relatively stable; suddenly in the mid-1800s a sustained decline in fertility began. By World War I, family size was cut in half. the extensive use of contraception was signaled not so much by the drop in number of large families -- which might have been explained by lengthy periods of continence and extended nursing -- as by the increasingly early age at which women stopped giving birth. 

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Last Updated Nov 3, 2012

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