Friday, August 5, 2011


Child-rearing practices of the colonial era included much from the writings of John Locke in "Thoughts on Education", published in England in 1690. He recommended icy baths for infants and young children. A classic, documented example, Josiah Quincy recalled that in winter as well as summer he would be carried from his warm bed and taken to a cellar kitchen to be dipped three times in a tub of frigid water straight from the well. Also in keeping with Locke's advice, his shoes were made with thin soles so that water could leak in. In his boyhood, he said, he spent most of his time with wet, cold feet. Quincy survived, many of his generation did not.

First food for the infant was mother's milk. Various substances, including dangerous lead-based pewter were used in nursing bottles and nipples, and if John Locke was followed meat would not be fed until the child was several years old. Children might have brown bread, corn pudding, baked beans and perhaps milk and cheese and some fruits.

A primary threat to health was infectious disease. Yellow fever, pernicious malaria, scarlet fever, diphtheria . The latter had been a mild disease before 1735 when it suddenly assumed a fatal form in an outbreak in Kingston, NH. Whooping cough, dysentery, influenza, tuberculosis, pleurisy and smallpox. Much of the medical practices contributed to fatalities, the receipts and cures in books of cookery often provided a gentler dosage than that of the physician.

Burns were mentioned frequently by Martha Ballard, and treatment with poultices of rum, onion and indian meal. She also refers to children passing or vomiting worms, a common, debilitating condition found in that area. Scaldings were frequent, and one child, age 7, appeared dead after drinking spirits. They immersed him in warm water and put down oil, Dr Cony was called and used some means and he recovered. She frequently made use of the mild cathartics , senna and manna, even using manna with infants.

As innoculations for small pox became desireable/fashionable, children, too, underwent the procedure. From a letter written by Lady Montegu about her six-year-old son - "the children play together all the rest of the day and are in perfect health to the eighth; Then the fever begins to seize them and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which seldom mark, and in eight days time they are as well as before their illness.