Category Archives: History

History research and essays

Scarlet Fever and Thoughts of Mary Howard

I’ve been thinking of this post for about 3 weeks now, but it seems even stranger to be writing now, in the midst of the increasingly serious COVID-19 pandemic. It was hardly a blip on my radar 3 weeks ago.

On the last day of February, which this year happened to be a Saturday and a Leap Day (Feb. 29), my family headed out for some errands and lunch. My 2-year-old son started acting slightly pathetic while we were in the restaurant; lying down on the bench and not wanting to eat. I thought he was just being picky (as usual) and that he was just tired (as it was getting close to nap-time anyway).

But when we got him home, we realized he had a fever. It was nothing overly concerning, as far as the actual temperature (maybe 101? I forget now), so we gave him some Tylenol and put him down for his nap. He seemed okay after that.

The next morning when he woke up, he had this fine, bumpy, reddish-pink rash on his tummy, back, and to a lesser extent on his cheeks.

Scarlet fever rash on a 2-year-old, 2020 Mar. 1

Scarlet fever rash on a 2-year-old, 2020 Mar. 1

I googled (yes Dr. Google) a some things (measles, even “rubella” having no idea what that even was); sent pictures to family members in the medical profession (“kids get weird rashes,” one of my nurse-sisters said); and speculated that perhaps I had failed to “find” a place where he had wet the bed (he sometimes takes off his diaper in bed — the joys of toddlers!) and maybe that was irritating his skin (so I washed all his sheets—again—and gave him a bath).

The next morning, the rash seemed better, and he didn’t have a fever, so I sent him to school (daycare). Well, he hadn’t even been there two hours, and I get a phone call from the school, saying he needs to be picked up ASAP: “We think it looks like scarlet fever.”

Scarlet fever? Is that still even a thing? Isn’t that like from the 1800’s and earlier?

It seemed like it was SO “not a thing” that it didn’t even occur to me to Google that one, the day before.

Well, spoiler alert: It was scarlet fever. Well, it was strep, plus the associated fever and red, sandpaper-y rash (which strep can sometimes cause), thus making it not just strep but “scarlet fever.”

Scarlet Fever! It’s Not Just For The 1800’s Anymore!

Apparently, scarlet fever has been making a comeback. (Weird.)

Thankfully, these days it is easy to treat with antibiotics, something that wasn’t invented until the 20th century. Consequently, all things considered, it wasn’t that big of a deal for my son. I’m sure he didn’t feel very good, but he took the medicine (with a little chocolate bribery), and he got better. And now he’s fine.

*****

But I just kept thinking of another mother and her babies, almost two hundred years ago, who weren’t so lucky.

*****

As you may recall, one of the last big projects I worked on at the Dayton Metro Library before I started working at Wright State University was to process the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Papers. And I wrote about the FPW Papers here quite a lot.

One member of that large, extended family, represented in the collection was Mary Howard, sister of Sarah (Howard) Forrer (whose husband was Samuel Forrer). I wrote a biographical sketch of Mary for the collection and posted it on this blog, identifying Mary as “the bearer of many sorrows.”

Well, most of those sorrows involved disease: specifically cholera and scarlet fever.  (Some involved the Civil War; see A Tale of Two Howards.)

In the summer of 1833, Mary (Howard) Little was a 24-year-old wife and mother of 3 (with another on the way). By the summer of 1834, she was a 25-year-old childless widow.

In July-August 1833, a cholera epidemic struck central Ohio and the Howard and Little families. In the span of a few weeks, Mary lost her husband Harvey Little, her two older children (ages 5 and 4), both her parents, and a younger sister, all to cholera. Mary was left with a 2-year-old and the new baby, who would be born in February and named Harvey Little Jr. after his deceased father.

Scarlet fever dealt two more blows to Mary in the spring of 1834. Around April 30th, the older of her two remaining children died from it; and on May 7th, the baby, less than 4 months old, succumbed as well.

This letter from Mary’s brother John Howard to his and Mary’s brother-in-law Samuel Forrer (husband of their sister Sarah) describes Mary’s situation on May 7, 1834, the day her fourth and final child died:

John Howard to Samuel Forrer, 1834 May 7, Box 36, File 8, MS-018, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Papers, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio (reproduced with permission)

John Howard to Samuel Forrer, 1834 May 7, Box 36, File 8, MS-018, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Papers, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio (reproduced with permission)

The letter reads as follows:

Columbus, O. 5th Mo. (May) 7th 1834
Dear Brother,
At the request of Sister Mary, I write to inform thee of the death of Little Harvey, of the scarlet fever. Wm. Hance informed thee that he had been taken. He died this afternoon at about 5 o’clock, after having suffered considerably during the last two days. Medicine seemed to have no effect on him.– Although this is a very severe blow to Sister Mary, she sustains bears it with remarkable fortitude. She is considerably fatigued with nursing, though in other respects (tolerably?) well. She sends her love to you, and says she would like to see you & that Sara promised her she would come, if she could make it convenient. She has, for the last few days, been at Wm. Hance’s, at his very earnest request, and also that of his wife; they have both been, and still are, very kind and affectionate. I came here last evening and intend to stay until I see Sister Mary well settled somewhere.
Affectionately, John Howard
(To) Samuel Forrer

Poor Mary. I can’t even. “…after having suffered considerably during the last two days. Medicine seemed to have no effect on him…”

It’s the kind of thing that makes you really stop and feel grateful for all that’s been achieved in modern medicine since then, even if there is still more to learn.

And now, here we all sit, “sheltering in place” per the governor’s order, wondering “who’s next” for COVID-19 and whether that person and the medical professionals around them will have what it takes to fight it off.

*****

Special thanks to Jamie McQuinn and Martha Ballinger in the Local History Room, Dayton Metro Library, for quickly providing me with the scan of the above letter, from the collection, and permission to use it.

And special thanks to Jamie (my former supervisor there) also for the following good-natured tease in his initial response, which gave me a chuckle and a smile: “Just when you thought you could quit those Forrer-Peirce-Woods, they suck you back in again…”
Too right.

Bibliography & More Info:

Civil War Sampler Block #18: Tea Leaf

My Civil War Sampler Block 18 is Tea Leaf:

Tea Leaf, completed August 7, 2019

Tea Leaf, completed August 7, 2019

This is another one, like Tennessee, that I am just really not very happy with — mainly my color choices.

There was a graphic in the book (that isn’t on the blog) of a sassafras tea leaf, and I was excited that I had some fabric that rather resembled it. (You know how I like literal “symbolism” — such an oxymoron, I know.) Here’s another picture of tea leaves by Lensnmatter on Flickr to give you an idea:

And here are my fabric choices laid out together:

Fabrics chosen for Tea Leaf

Fabrics chosen for Tea Leaf

Honestly, as I look at the finished block again, I think it’s not so much the two “uncontrasty” leaf fabrics together that bother me. Because, in the block instructions, the entire leaf is all just “dark.” It could have all been the exact SAME color, and it would still be considered as having followed the pattern.

Really, I think it’s the other print, with the viney leaves, that makes me not like it. It should have been lighter and/or less “busy,” and I think it would have looked better. As it is, this block has absolutely “no chill,” and it’s like…assaulting your eyes, haha. Oh well. Live (and sew) and learn, right?

One thing I am really happy with about this block (other than finding an excuse to use that weird tea-leaf-like print that I used for the leaf part—in, not one, but TWO funky colors), is the stem piece:

Detail of the

Detail of the “stem” segment

I think I did a nice job of fussy-cutting so that line would end up pretty well right in the middle. I get kind of excited whenever the blocks have a part in them that seems like it is “begging” for something with straight lines in it. It’s hard to describe.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I also like to try to anal-retentively make sure that if there’s a discernible pattern, that all of the pieces have the pattern going either “the same way” (e.g., all “pointing up”) or “in a certain noticeable pattern” (e.g., all pointing…clockwise, like they’d be running in a clockwise whirlpool circle if the thing were spinning like a pinwheel).

Here are a few examples:

  • All the little “ships” on the blue water in #11 Blockade are pointed “up.” (If your ships aren’t upright, then you’ve got problems.)
  • The direction of the vines-on-pink in #6 Port and Starboard is much more subtle, but if you look closely, two of the sets of pink “bow-ties” have the vines reaching upwards, and two of them have the vines hanging downwards (on opposite corners, obviously, for balance).
  • The white-on-purple roses in #12 Louisiana “flow” clockwise around the outer part of the block – which makes sense, because if that tan pinwheel in the center were real, that’s the direction it would turn when those little triangle “cups” got filled with wind.

Sometimes I “let it go” here in the sampler quilt if it would mean cutting a lot of extra pieces and wasting some, but I do like to do it if I can.

I’ll “let it go” on my feelings for this block as well. You know what’s better than a perfect block? A finished one.

 

Civil War Sampler Block #17: Calico Puzzle

My Civil War Sampler Block 17 is Calico Puzzle:

Calico Puzzle, completed July 3, 2019

Calico Puzzle, completed July 3, 2019

The story to go with this block describes one of the wartime hardships in the South (in this case, Union-occupied New Orleans): the shortages, and soaring prices, of fabric for “pretty dresses” (a great concern of the teenager Clara Solomon, whose writing is featured in the tale).

Clara writes of how a friend was looking nice “in a clean muslin” and how the price of “calico” fabric had essentially doubled.

Clara’s stories (and not just the block title) did inspire the fabrics I chose for this one. I chose a plain, dark muslin for part of it, as she mentions muslin – and though nice and “clean,” plain-colored muslin is certainly rather boring, whether for a quilt block or a young girl’s dress — and that is exactly the point.

She either could not get (due to shortage) or could not afford (due to exorbitant price hikes, resulting from the shortages — supply and demand and all that) something pretty and exciting, at the time.

So what I thought I would contrast the plain “boring” muslin with something I would consider pretty and exciting — which, OF COURSE, meant purple. This sprang to mind immediately, first because I just love purple myself, but also because historically, purple fabric has always been expensive — which was mainly because it was made from rare ingredients and difficult to actually make (learn more in this History.com article).

Apparently purple cloth became more widely attainable in about the 1850s when someone came up with a synthetic purple dye. But that’s all the more reason that purple would be symbolically good in this instance: it can be reasonably assumed that beautiful purple dresses had probably somewhat recently become attainable for this young lady, though since that was a quite recent change (within the last 10-15 years before the Civil War), it would still have the historic associations of royalty (TBH even now most people are still aware of that, right?) — and so, all the more HORROR when it would suddenly become unattainable again.

I would miss purple a lot, and I don’t even care much about clothes.

Civil War Sampler Block #16: Tennessee

My Civil War Sampler Block 16 is Tennessee:

Tennessee, completed July 1, 2019

Tennessee, completed July 1, 2019

I confess that this is one of my least favorite of all the blocks I’ve completed thus far. (And I’ve actually done 28+ at this point, but I haven’t written about them all yet…)

The color that I associate with Tennessee is, again (like Louisiana), related to the school colors of a large state university there: orange.

And, I had really been jonesing to use that rather strange berry-leafy print. The purple square in the middle is just a color that I thought coordinated with some of the berries, as did the orange.

But all in all, I’m not too thrilled with how this came out. Usually — thankfully — I have the pleasant surprise of the opposite occurrence: choosing the colors, getting halfway through, thinking I’m not sure about it, and then being pretty happy with the results after all.

(This was the case with a pink, green, and brown quilt Mom and I made in 2013 – the cuts of cloth looked fine together on the table, then it looked pretty dicey mid-way through, but in the end we liked it after all.)

Relating to history, the story in the book (I can’t actually find it on the blog)  happens to mention that Tennessee hosted more Civil War battles than any other state, save Virginia.

If you had asked me this question in trivia — “after Virginia, what state had the most Civil War battles?” — I would have had a hard time coming up with the answer (if I did at all). But it makes sense, with Tennessee being near the “middle” of things (north/south-wise) and also being quite “elongated” east/west. No wonder armies were marching around through Tennessee (and inevitably meeting up with each other) so much!

You’ve no doubt heard of the Battle of Shiloh, which took place in April 1862 at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, along the west bank of the Tennessee River. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

It’s a stretch to relate this, but I can hardly think of Tennessee in connection with the Civil War and not think of Shiloh and consequently of one particular soldier I researched several years ago and who died as a result of his injuries from that battle. If you’re interested, here’s the first part of my A Tale of Two Howards, which follows two Ohio cousins – both named Howard (their mothers’ maiden name) – who fought in the Civil War.

Come to think of it, though, I guess I could tie both of these thoughts together – the quilt square and the “Howard” boys – by saying that nothing ever turns out quite the way you think it will (for good or bad).

 

Civil War Sampler #15: Apple Tree

My Civil War Sampler Block 15 is Apple Tree:

Apple Tree, completed June 29, 2019

Apple Tree, completed June 29, 2019

This was another block where I took the name pretty literally – after all, it does look like an apple tree, right? (More or less.)

And I knew I had some apple-print fabric somewhere in one of my dresser drawers…

(And, would you believe I am just this very moment as I write this, realizing that it is the EXACT same apple fabric as was used in one of the examples in both Brackman’s blog and the book???)

But beyond that, coordinating prints had to be chosen.

Since my Mom was in town visiting, I asked her to help me pick out the colors. Didn’t we do a nice job selecting them? 🙂

Here’s Mom with the finished square:

Apple Tree was completed with help from my mom, seen here

Apple Tree was completed with help from my mom, seen here

The original story that goes with this block is about hanging Confederate President Jefferson Davis “on a sour apple tree” — but the (proposed) hanging really didn’t inspire me as much as the apple tree itself…

 

Civil War Sampler #14: Rosebud

My Civil War Sampler Block 14 is Rosebud:

Rosebud, completed June 29, 2019

Rosebud, completed June 29, 2019

This block was completed with no less than two regrets and one lesson.

The first regret was that I had already used my “best” pink rosebud prints in #10 Yankee Puzzle. You can see that I actually used one of the same ones again in this one. No big deal; I’ve used some prints more than once in various blocks.

One might suggest that perhaps I should (have) read the entire book first and plan better…but, oh my, what fun would that be? I’d get completely overwhelmed and shut down entirely on the project! No, I’m taking it one block at a time. Read the story, pick some cloth, make the square.

My second regret (and also the lesson) is, however, that I did not at least read the entire page and all its instructions before diving in. Apparently, this block called for a “scant” seam when joining all the tiny triangles. I did not do this, and so I ended up with something like the block below (shown after I tried to remedy my too-small finished square by letting out only the seams joining the 4 quadrants – which, as you can see, did not work).

A reminder to read all instructions before proceeding

A reminder to read all instructions before proceeding

I had to ask my Mom, “What does that even mean, a ‘scant’ seam?”

“It’s something a little less than a quarter inch seam.”

“What, like an eighth? Why don’t they just say that?”

Who knows.

I could not bring myself to rip out ALL of those seams, so instead, I just cut all of the pieces out again and made a completely brand new block. But I’ve kept the “mistake” block as a reminder to read all the instructions before you start! I now make sure to look out especially for the blue “Hint” boxes. (I may even tack this block up to my wall, like a warning…)

(While I took the name of this block pretty literally with roses, roses, everywhere, the original history tale for Rosebud, which you can read on Brackman’s blog, pertains to Confederate spy Rose Greenhow.)

 

Civil War Sampler #23: The Comfort Quilt

I interrupt your irregularly scheduled, numerically ordered Civil War Sampler quilt blog post programming in order to do an extremely unusual thing — that is, to make a square AND write the post AND release the post ALL on the same day — and that day is today. I feel like something would be lost in the significance of this one, unless I do so. (Don’t worry, you didn’t miss blocks 14-22. I haven’t written those yet, although I have made the squares.)

My Civil War Sampler Block 23 is The Comfort Quilt:

Block 23: The Comfort Quilt, completed Dec. 31, 2019

Block 23: The Comfort Quilt, completed Dec. 31, 2019

You may have noticed that I sometimes have trouble choosing the fabrics for the blocks — maybe partly because I am over-pressuring myself to try to attach some meaning to the color choices, with regards to the corresponding story.

I did not expect to have such trouble with the color choices in doing a sampler; I was expecting more trouble with all the blocks being different – just when I figure one out, it’s on to another! Haha. But seeing as how I am making a quilt that is basically “scrappy” – even though I’m using all new fabric, mostly fat quarters – and each one is different, with different colors too, that adds more to the mix of time and decisions.

Good news on this one though – I knew as soon as I saw the block title, before I ever even read the story, what fabric I wanted to use for this!

This was exactly what I needed tonight – a quick fix of sewing that would actually “come easy” this time. We’re coming to the end of a long winter break from work, my husband and I having been off work since December 21st — and to be honest, I think the three of us (him, me, and our 2-year-old) are starting to get a little stir-crazy. I just…needed something to relax with, to be comforting, tonight.

And this block delivered exactly what its title implied.

As I said, I knew exactly what fabric I wanted to use for this. No fussing around.

In the summer of 2016, I finished a large (approximately queen-size, or about the size of the top of a king bed) quilt made from Moda’s “Grant Park” line of fabric. The pattern was called “Stars and Bars” (from Kelly Einmo’s Jelly Roll Quilts & More).

Unfinished top: Grant Park Stars and Bars quilt, Summer 2016

Unfinished top: Grant Park Stars and Bars quilt, Summer 2016

I’ve slept under this quilt just about every night since it was finished. It’s too small to be the only quilt on the king bed, but I like having extra blanket weight on me anyway, so I use it as a sort of “topper” with a plain bedspread underneath. I’ve found this quilt to be a great comfort over the years (and so have my cats).

Grant Park Stars and Bars quilt topper on king bed, Aug. 2018

Grant Park Stars and Bars quilt topper on king bed, Aug. 2018

Sleepy fur babies on the Grant Park quilt, July 2017

Sleepy fur babies on the Grant Park quilt, July 2017

Imagine my joy (serendipity?) when I actually did read Brackman’s little story for this one and it included the following: “The patchwork imitates a woven comforter pattern, and bedcoverings were often called comforts.”

Perfect.

This might have been the easiest one I’ve made yet, just for color choice reasons alone. Not to mention there are no triangles, “scant” seam allowances, set-in seams, or any other even remotely complicated stuff.

That’s just what I needed tonight, to end the year.

That, and reading a nice book in bed under my own comfort quilt.