Imprisoned: How Inmates in Early American Jails Resisted Control

“Hope in a Prison of Despair.” Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919). Public Domain.

From its opening in 1829, Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary was meant to serve as a fortress of reform, behind which inmates prepared to reenter society through hard work, clean habits, and penitent solitude. With scarce contact from others (aside from clergy and prison officials), went the theory, inmates would have plenty of time to mull over their misdeeds. But prisoner David Anderson was having none of this isolation. Repeatedly, he climbed on top of the loom where he was supposed to be weaving in order to reach the prison’s soaring skylight and speak through it to other inmates. He kept up this practice until he fell and broke his leg. Anderson’s efforts to flout the system’s rules were far from unusual, according to Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (The University of Georgia Press).

Edited by Michele Lise Tarter, associate professor of English at the College of New Jersey, and Richard Bell, assistant professor of history at the University of Maryland-College Park, this new essay collection examines various ways that incarcerated men and women in early America resisted control by their jailers and challenged the penal system.

Eastern State Penitentiary.
Photo by Thesab. Wikimedia Commons.

“No matter the setting, inmates’ defiance—prompted by a variety of motives—often thwarted the purpose of punishment,” the editors write in their introduction. “At times, their behavior served to exacerbate existing structural weaknesses, exposing fault lines that could bring penal institutions to the verge of collapse. On other occasions inmates imposed their own disciplinary imperatives to contrast and compete with those forced upon them by their keepers.”

Writing about Eastern State Penitentiary, Villanova University historian Jennifer Lawrence Janofsky, shows how prisoners challenged reformers’ intentions by exploiting weaknesses in the building and its management. “Burrowing holes between cells took considerable time, but for prisoners who had nothing but time, the opportunity for human interaction was worth the risk,” she writes. “Nails, hammers, and pieces of iron, intended for shoemaking, became the tools of resistance as prisoners tenaciously attacked the walls, determined to communicate with their neighbors.” Others nudged notes through the plumbing pipes.

Sometimes imprisonment had the unintended effect of blurring racial lines as inmates cooperated in plans of escape. Susan Eva O’Donovan, associate professor of history at the University of Memphis, describes how an enslaved man named Bill broke out of his shackles in a Georgia jail in 1855 and went on to free a half-dozen other inmates, both black and white. The group then shimmied down blankets after squeezing through a hole in the upper-story wall.

Contacts forged behind bars also exposed Southern slaves to “powerful and potentially leveling ideas” and practical knowledge that was sometimes used in future bids for freedom, O’Donovan adds. For example, when Anthony Burns, a runaway slave, was caught and lodged in a Richmond jail, he was able to describe his taste of freedom up North and share escape tactics with his prison neighbors (talking through a hole he made in the floor of his cell).

“Burns relayed accounts of the places he had seen to the inmates below,” O’Donovan writes. “He told his audience of the people he had met. He warned them of the perils that must be avoided … Burns performed, in short, as the slaves’ “Columbus,” the explorer home from foreign shores, eager to share what he had heard and learned and observed while living beyond the horizon.”

Getting sent to the Philadelphia Almshouse—or seeking admission as a last resort in hard times—was another form of imprisonment for some early Americans. Despite its locked gates, work rules, and punishments for noncompliance (in a special cell called the “black hole”), inmates still found ways to exert some autonomy, according to essays by Jacqueline Cahif (University of Cambridge), Simon P. Newman (University of Glasgow), and Billy G. Smith (Montana State University).

For instance, though release from the Almshouse had to be approved by the steward, many men and women took it upon themselves to leave after receiving what the institution had to offer, be it clothing or medical care. Some came and went repeatedly. A septuagenarian named Matthew Richards climbed over the fence, “presumably in search of rum,” only to be returned to the Almshouse in a cart and flee yet again, write Newman and Smith.

Others sought seasonal shelter in the facility, combining their need to survive with a drive for self-determination: “Like numerous other indigents, Philip and Sarah Haines ‘entered as usual to be fed and kept warm during the winter and jump the fence in the spring.’ Sarah, complained the clerk “is as good at fence jumping as [Philip] is.’”

Prostitutes who entered the Almshouse for syphilis treatment also vexed their keepers by going back out to practice their trade. Between 1790 and 1799, more than half of them, on average, left without permission, Cahif writes.

Those who did remain in the so-called “polishing ward” found other ways to defy the system. When Jane Bickerdite, a former patient, became a ward nurse, for instance, the other patients balked at her new alliance with authority. “They mobbed her severely,” wrote the steward, “and raised a Bawling Clamerous noise & Clanger with … Rattling Frying pans after her, all of which together, they called the Whoars march, and of which Doubtless they are competent judges … as every step they have taken for several years have been in line and true to the Beat.”

Those were the words of the women’s keeper. But Buried Lives also devotes several essays to exploring how prisoners commented on the institutions that contained them.

Through a variety of sources cited in this book, from confessions to petitions to newspaper articles, the reader is exposed to inmates’ perspectives. “In their pages,” Tarter and Bell write, “we find the many voices of the captive and imprisoned in early America: vicious men, calculating women, diffident drunks, runaway slaves, immigrant workers, homeless children, victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and above all, the vagrant, the poor and the enslaved.”

Images of Freedom: Photo Collection Shows the Faces of Emancipation

Unidentified African American soldier with wife and two daughters. (1863-1865) Ambrotype. Library of Congress.

When Deborah Willis studied the Civil War era as a teenager back in the 1960s, she recalls, her school lessons stuck to a single narrative: “Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.” The photographic collection in a new book by Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (Temple University Press), presents a more complex picture of the freedom story.  (I got in touch with Willis and Krauthamer after reading about their book in this post on KolorBlind Mag.)

Most of the book’s 150 images date from the 1850s, a decade before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, to the 1930s. As a whole, the photographs and accompanying text show African Americans as agents in their emancipation: We see a teenage girl, posed in a big bell of a skirt, who had once disguised herself as a boy to flee slavery. An old man with a lifetime of stories written in his eyes holds up a slave-calling horn he doesn’t have to answer.  Sojourner Truth displays a daguerrotype of her grandson in Civil War uniform, calling attention to what’s at stake in the abolitionist cause. We also see the work of African-American photographers. One of them, Augustus Washington, was active in the anti-slavery movement before his emigration to Liberia.

For Willis, who is professor and chair of photography and imaging in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, it was an eye-opening experience to read the letters and diaries of soldiers, mothers, teachers, and other African Americans who took part in the struggle for Emancipation—“to hear their voices about their hopes and dreams for their loved ones,” she says. “The multiple narratives really expanded my idea of the lived experience of slavery [and new-found freedom].”

Nursemaid with child. ca. 1855. Ruby ambrotype, handpainted.
Library of Congress.

“What we wanted to show through the book was people’s dignity and sense of their own strengths and potential to shape the future,” adds Krauthamer, an assistant professor of history at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. African Americans “were intellectually and philosophically engaged in the major political and social issues of the day.”

But that point didn’t come across in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed movie Lincoln, Krauthamer argues in this opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The film’s depiction of Emancipation largely excludes African-American women and men as anything other than the patient and grateful recipients of the gift of freedom,” she writes. “This is, of course, Spielberg’s prerogative as a filmmaker.”

Some of the photographs in Envisioning Emancipation were taken to support abolitionist causes. (Activist Sojourner Truth, for example, sold her portraits for 33 and 50 cents, which she referred to as “living on my shadow.”) Others were personal mementos, purchased by free African-Americans who could finally exercise some control over how they were presented. The laundress who appears on the book’s cover has a small American flag pinned to her dress in a nod to her patriotism. “When we look at these photographs, we see full human-beings,” Willis says. “They were creating their own biographies through these images.”

Not everyone had this chance, of course. Haunting the book are daguerrotypes of African Americans whose bodies were exposed for scientific study. Enslaved nursemaids are pictured holding white children in their laps. While the latter women served as human “restraints” for wiggling subjects, their presence also showed off the wealth of the white families who owned them, Krauthamer notes. She wonders what became of the women’s own children, if they had them. “Did they lose them to sale?”  What would it be like, she asks, “to be holding someone else’s child and wondering where is your own child?” The book contrasts those images with post-Emancipation portraits of older women with adult children and freeborn grandchildren. “How powerful an experience it must have been to pose with your own family,” she says.

Emancipation Day, Richmond, Va. ca. 1905.
Library of Congress.

Krauthamer and Willis became interested in this book project when they came across a small photograph of a woman in a white kerchief named “Dolly.” Her picture was pasted onto a $50 Reward notice that her master, Louis Manigault, created after she ran away from his Augusta, Georgia, plantation in 1863. Reflecting on her attractiveness and her “fine set of teeth,” Manigault seems to puzzle over why she left him. It is unclear why he possessed a picture of her. “We both thought that was a story that needed to be explored,” Willis says. Though some of the stories raise more questions than historians can answer, “these images allow us to connect to people whose lives would be lost [to us otherwise],” Krauthamer says.

Their book asks: “What did [Dolly] envision when she planned her escape? What did she see around her when she stepped outside her master’s yard and closed the gate behind her? When we look at her picture we see her life in slavery, but we also recognize that the picture is a testament to her liberation.”

In the end, Willis hopes their readers will find “a much more nuanced story about slavery. Not just the top down, but the fact that black people were actively involved in obtaining their freedom,” she says. “That’s what I want people to walk away with, because I didn’t know it when I was in high school.”

Immunotherapy: In a Nutshell, Possible Treatment for Peanut Allergy

Deep-fried peanuts.
By Mr. Atoz. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

When our youngest daughter was a year old, we decided to introduce her to some more interesting table foods. One night at dinner, I gave her a spoonful of chicken cooked with ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, and peanut butter. I thought she might protest. What I didn’t expect were swollen cheeks and husky breathing.

Minutes later, lights flashed in our driveway and half a dozen men in blue crammed into our living room to check our daughter’s vital signs. I was relieved, if a bit sheepish: No treatment was needed after all. But later tests revealed a mild to moderate peanut allergy, and so we joined the ranks of Epi-Pen-toting parents.

Currently there is no approved treatment for peanut allergy. As a result patients or their parents must carefully monitor diets and carry around lifesaving doses of epinephrine (used in cases of accidental ingestion to treat a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis). However, a recent double-blind, multicenter study (reported here in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology) shows that sublingual immunotherapy might be a way to prevent allergic reactions.

Dr. Wesley Burks, professor and chair of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the study’s lead author (along with Dr. David Fleischer of National Jewish Health in Denver), discussed the results with me:

In 20 percent of cases, Burks explains, children who acquire a peanut allergy in the first years of life will eventually outgrow it. But it’s hard to predict who will leave the allergy behind, or what will be the severity of side effects. “There’s certainly anxiety inherent in a diagnosis because of the [uncertaity] of what future reactions might be like,” says Burks.

“The prevalence of peanut allergies has changed so much in the last two decades that it has become more important to find a treatment,” he adds. “Only recently though has [sublingual immunotherapy (or SLIT)] been used with appropriate dosing that could be used for peanut allergy.” (SLIT has previously been used to treat a range of allergies, from milk to peaches.)

SLIT works by desensitizing the patient to the allergen over time. In this study, patients were exposed over many weeks to tiny (and gradually increasing) daily doses of peanut powder in a liquid that was squirted into the mouth and held under the tongue for two minutes before swallowing. That time in the mouth is key, explains Burks, because mucous membranes there give the allergen rapid entry into the body’s immune system.

(Subcutaneous immunotherapy, which uses injections, is another treatment option for some kinds of allergies, but it has not been found to be safe in the case of peanut. According to Burks, studies were stopped in the 1990s because of significant side effects.)

At the beginning of the SLIT study Burks took part in, 40 subjects with peanut allergy were given an oral food challenge of up to 2 grams of peanut powder to see how much they could tolerate. Then subjects were randomly assigned to receive either peanut SLIT or a placebo. At the end of a 44-week period, the patients were given another food challenge. Those who could safely consume 5 g, or at least 10-fold more peanut powder compared to their baseline, were considered “responders.” In the SLIT group, 70 percent were responders, compared to just 15 percent of the placebo group. Among responders, the median consumption of peanut powder rose from 3.5 to 496 milligrams. Following 68 weeks of treatment, median consumption climbed to 996 milligrams, or about the equivalent of three peanuts.

That doesn’t sound like much (and indeed, immunotherapy is no invitation to start snacking on Snickers bars). But it’s significant to allergy sufferers. According to Burks, an allergic reaction typically happens to less than one third of a peanut. (Trace amounts can find their way into foods prepared in factories, kitchens, or restaurants where peanuts are used. “In theory, you could take a daily dose and it could protect you from most accidental interactions,” he says.

“What we don’t know is the dosing ranges and how long to treat someone to make it permanent—or even if we can make it permanent,” Burks adds. “What needs to happen are more studies, using more people, in different dosing regimens.”

Families: How Those Torn Apart by Slavery Tried to Reunite

Spend any time reading 19th-century newspapers and you’ll likely find them: tucked among ads for barrels of ox beef and puncheons of rum will be notices of persons for sale or, equally unsettling, runaway ads that inventory the appearance or personality of a master’s departed slave. Usually, a reward was offered to track down the individual—“a stout fellow” or “a slender wench,” who was “considerable knock-kneed” or perhaps “marked with small pox,” and showing a “pleasing smiling countenance” or “a down look.”*

In her new book, Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery, University of North Carolina history professor Heather Andrea Williams turns her attention to a third kind of newspaper communication—Information Wanted notices posted by African Americans themselves. After the Civil War, this was one of the ways that former slaves sought to find their loved ones.

It’s interesting that “this is how black people showed up in the newspaper most often in that century,” notes Williams in a recent phone interview. “The runaway ads are about money, offering a reward to get ‘property’ back,” she says. In contrast, the Information Wanted ads launch “an emotional appeal.” But rather than providing physical details of the missing person, whose appearance may have changed with the passage of time, they typically use the owner’s name as an identifier.

“I think they’re all really laden with emotion—some much more explicit than others,” she says. “You get some where there is this resentment really coming through. They put the word owner in quote marks, making this rhetorical challenge to the idea of one person owning another. But then they are also poignant—not because they say I loved my mother and cry for her every night, but because somebody has been looking for his mother for 21 years. He thinks he somehow might have a chance [of finding her.]”

In an ad that appears in Nashville’s Colored Tennessean on October 7, 1865, Thornton Copeland wrote, “Information is wanted of my mother, whom I left in Fauquier county, Va., in 1844, and I was sold in Richmond, Va., to Saml. Copeland. I formerly belonged to Robert Rogers. I am very anxious to hear from my mother … My mother’s name was Betty, and was sold by Col. Briggs to James French.”

“That one is really poignant because it raises lots of issues which people contended with,” Williams says. How do you find someone after a separation of more than two decades? “How do you find someone whose name was Betty, knowing that the owner could have changed her name at any point?

“There’s hope. There’s pain. There are multiple emotions in these ads,” Williams says.

As her book explains, newspaper ads weren’t the only strategy used by African Americans. Sometimes they wrote to former owners for information or sought clues to a relative’s whereabouts from one of the Freedmen’s Bureau offices set up around the country after the Civil War. (Others, of course, took the opportunity to run away while slavery was still in place, often heading toward the plantation where they last saw a family member.)

Williams practiced law before becoming an historian, but she has always been interested in African-American history. “I write books because I want to know the black people in the past,” she explains. “Often we talk about slaves, and the word replaces the people.”

The Help Wanted notices provide a peek at people’s personal stories. The personalities of individuals come through even more in the letters and narratives that Williams also excerpts in her book, particularly those that refer to the loss of family members in childhood. Recalling how her mother was sold and taken from her when she was a child, Kate Drumgoold wrote, “The saddest thought to me was to know which way she had gone and I used to go outside and look up to see if anything that would direct me and I saw a clear place in the sky and it seemed to me the way she had gone, and I watched it 3 ½ years not knowing what that meant and it was there the whole time mother was gone.” Continue reading

Eavesdropping: A Peek at the Snooping Skills of Beetles, Bats, Canaries (and a Few Humans)

The Eavesdropper by Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932).
Image in the Public Domain due to age.

Human history is full of examples of eavesdropping, from neighbors snooping on the party line to the FBI scouring the Gmail account of Gen. David Petraeus. In a post on her blog Brain Pickings, Maria Popova takes a peek at John L. Locke’s book Eavesdropping: An Intimate History (Oxford University Press, 2010) for some explanation of its causes. Animals do plenty of eavesdropping, too, to avoid predators, defend their territories, and assess the fitness of their mates. Here are some ways that beetles, bats, and canaries snoop for information. (But don’t tell anybody you heard this from me.):


Margaridisa sp. Flea beetles normally like to chomp away on leaves from the pink flowering Cordobán tree (Conostegia xalapensis). But the presence of aggressive ants seems to put a damper on their appetite.

To test if these beetles eavesdrop on the communication pheromones of ants in order to avoid them, David Gonthier, an environmental sciences researcher at the University of Toledo, coated the underside of some leaves with “crushed ant liquids” from the species A. instabilis and dotted others with only water. His results appear in the open-access journal PLOS One.

The control leaves sustained 3.8 times more damage and had three times more beetles on them than the ant-marked leaves. In addition, two experiments comparing control leaves with leaves that had previously been “patrolled” by A. instabilis and another ant species, C. textor, found about twice as much damage among the control leaves.

The researcher found no significant differences in leaves that had been patrolled by a third ant species, S. geminata, but more experiments may be needed to understand those results.


Bats use echolocation, releasing short wavelength signals that bounce off other objects, in order to find food and orient themselves, as well as to socialize. By eavesdropping on these signals, bats can glean information from others. One study in Proceedings of the Royal Society Bby scientists from Germany’s University of Ulm and other institutions looks at the extent to which bats can gather social information, such as the sex of the caller, from these vocal signatures.

Greater sac-winged bat (S. bilineata).
Felineora. Creative Commons.

Their study involved the greater sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata). Even though they mate only during a brief time in December, males of this species defend their daytime roosting space from other males and try to attract females to it throughout the year.

After capturing bats with mist nets, researchers banded individuals and released them one at a time in order to record their distinctive echolocation calls. Then they recorded the responses of roosting males as individual bats were released, one by one, near the colony’s roosting site. All of the roosting males crooned courtship songs to approaching females and warned off approaching males with territorial vocalizations.

Due to the distance and darkness, it is unlikely that scent or visual information helped these males tell the difference between male and female bats, the study concludes. “Through passive information transfer and eavesdropping, echolocation calls play a crucial and hitherto underestimated role for social communication in a highly mobile and gregarious nocturnal mammal.”


Eavesdropping doesn’t always generate reliable information, however—especially when the subject knows they’re being watched.

Domestic canary (Serinus canaria).
L.E. MacDonald. Creative Commons.

A study published in PLOS One on socially-monogamous domestic canaries looked at the effect of having an audience on males’ behavior. Researchers from Paris West University Nanterre la Défense paired up 21 male canaries and 21 female canaries in cages, allowing them to mate. Later they placed those same male canaries in cages with different, but familiar, females, with whom they could interact. These interactions either took place in front of another empty cage or a cage containing a familiar female or their own mate. When there was no audience, the male canaries courted the most. They courted the least in front of their own mates.

“These results show that male domestic canaries can adjust their behaviour according to the social bond they share with the audience,” the study states. “Indeed, subjects courted less in the presence of their mate than in the presence of a familiar female. This suggests that males suffer costs while engaging in extra-pair behaviours in the presence of their mate.”

A second eavesdropping experiment found that male canaries competed more aggressively against other males for food when they had an audience. The presence of a mate or a familiar female led to more attacks on the competing male.

The study concluded: “One could assume that males losing a contest would suffer a decrease in their reproductive success in both situations: eavesdropping familiar females would not choose them as sexual partners … while eavesdropping mates would engage more in extra-pair copulations … ”

Diseases of the Mind: A Flawed, Innovative 19th-Century Guide to Mental Illness


Portrait of Dr. Benjamin Rush by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Wikimedia Commons.


Two hundred years ago, American physician Benjamin Rush published his extensive guide to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon Diseases of the Mind. Before Rush’s time, there was little knowledge on how to care for mentally ill patients. In fact, when Rush joined the staff at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital in 1783, there were two dozen “lunatics” (to use the parlance of the day) kept in unheated basement cells. Rush argued for their comfort and worked to improve their living conditions. But many of his recommended therapies would seem strange, and even inhumane, to the 21st century reader.

In an article I wrote for The Pennsylvania Gazette, I interviewed contemporary therapists about Rush’s complex legacy to the mental-health field:

“It really is a mix of things,” says Robert DeRubeis, chair of the psychology department at the University of PennsylvaniaDiseases of the Mind includes treatments that therapists “would never do today” because they’re inhumane, ineffective, or theoretically unsound. “They range from alarming to eyebrow-raising to bemusing when you read about them,” DeRubeis says. “But then there are another set of treatments he describes that are perfectly sensible—some of which are in quite widespread use today and some of which should be in more widespread use.”

In Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician, biographer Alyn Brodsky writes that, as flawed as it was, Diseases of the Mind “was so complete and so unique a study of mental diseases that it remained the only comprehensive American study on the subject for seventy years, and was the foundation upon which superseding studies incorporating scientific advances were based.” Brodsky adds, “We can attribute to Rush’s efforts more innovation in the hospitalizing and treatment—above all, the understanding—of the mentally afflicted than to any other physician of his time.”

Below are just a few of Rush’s remedies for various afflictions. (Keep in mind the diagnosis terms are not ones in use today.) To find out what contemporary therapists at the University of Pennsylvania have to say about these and other therapies, see my sidebar in the Gazette.

For general intellectual derangement

Pennsylvania Hospital, William Strickland. Image in public domain due to age.


by means of a strait waistcoat, or of a chair, which I have called a tranquilizer. He submits to them both with less difficulty than to human force, and struggles less to disengage himself from them. The tranquilizer has several advantages over the strait waistcoat or mad shirt. It opposes the impetus of the blood towards the brain, it lessens muscular action every where, it reduces the force and frequency of the pulse, it favours the application of cold water and ice to the head, and warm water to the feet, both of which, I shall say presently, are excellent remedies in this disease; it enables physician to feel the pulse and to bleed without any trouble, or altering the erect position of the patient’s body; and, lastly, it relieves him, by means of a close stool, half filled with water, over which he constantly sits, from the foeter and filth of his alvine evacuations.


It should be copious on the first attack of the disease. From 20 to 40 ounces of blood may be taken at once, unless fainting be induced before that quantity be drawn. It will do most service if the patient be bled in a standing position. The effects of this early and copious bleeding are wonderful in calming mad people. It often prevents the necessity of using any other remedy, and sometimes it cures in a few hours.

Low diet, consisting wholly of vegetables, and those of the least nutritious nature

By Garelvirat. Flickr Creative Commons.

Cold, in the form of air, water and ice.

The hair should be cut off, and shaved from every part of the head … by cutting off, we not only expose the head to a greater degree of cold, but we favour by it, at the same time, depletion from the brain, by means of insensible perspiration.

Cold water should be applied … to the head … by means of cloths, or a bladder, to which ice, when it can be obtained, should be added … The coldnesss should be frequently renewed, and they should be continued for several days and nights. The signal for removing them should be, when they produce chilliness, and sobbing or weeping in the patient.

In order to derive benefit from the application of cold water to the whole body, it should be immersed in it for several hours, by which means we prevent the re-action of the system and thus render the sedative effects of the water permanent.

For hypochondria

Destruction of the old association of ideas.

Every thing a hypochondriac patient sees or hears, becomes tinctured with some sad idea of his disease … Change therefore his dress, his room, his habitation, and his company, as often as possible.

Employment, or business of some kind.

Man was made to be active. Even in paradise he was employed in the healthy and pleasant exercises of cultivating a garden. Happiness, consisting in folded arms and in pensive contemplations, beneath rural shades, and by the side of purling brooks, never had any existence, except in the brains of mad poets, and love-sick girls and boys.

Cultivating a garden, 18th-century English woodcut.

Certain amusements.

These should be preferred, which, while they interest the mind, afford exercise to the body. The chase, shooting, playing as quoits, are all useful for this purpose. … Chess, checkers, cards, and even push-pin should be preferred to idleness, when the weather forbids exercise in the open air. The theatre has often been resorted to, to remove fits of low spirits;: and it is a singular fact, that a tragedy oftener dissipates them than a comedy… Certain animals suspend the anguish of the mind of this disease by their innocence, ingenuity, or sports.

Music has often afforded great relief in this disease. .. I attended a citizen of Philadelphia, occasionally in the paroxysm of this disease who informed me that he was cured of one of them by hearing the old hundred psalm tune sung in a country church ….

For manalgia


This should consist of swinging, seesaw, and an exercise discovered by Dr. Cox, which promises more than either of them, and this is, subjecting the patient to a rotary motion, so as to give a centrifugal direction of the blood towards the brain … I have contrived a machine for this purpose in our hospital, which produces the same effects upon the body … These are vertigo and nausea, and a general perspiration. I have called it Gyrator. … It produces great changes in the pulse. In one experiment made with it, it increased the pulse from 84 to 88 strokes in one minutes, and to 120 in two minutes.


has several advantages over exercise, in being not only more stimulating, but more durable in its effects, whereby it is more calculated to arrest wrong habits of action, and to restore such as are regular and natural. It has been remarked that the maniacs of the male sex in all hospitals, who assist in cutting wood, making fires, and digging in a garden, and the females who are employed in washing, ironing, and scrubbing floors, often recover, while persons, whose rank exempts them from performing such services, languish away their lives within the walls of the hospital.

For derangement of the passions (grief)


It should be given in liberal doses in its first paroxysm, and it should be repeated afterwards, in order to obviate wakefulness.

1743 gravestone – Church of St. Peter-in-the-Great Valley, Saint Peter’s Road (East Whiteland Township), Devault, Chester County, PA. Library of Congress.

Silent company

Persons afflicted with grief should be advised to receive the visits of their friends, of whom the physician should always be one … They should imitate the conduct of Job’s friends, who after weeping for his losses and afflictions when they beheld him afar off … “sat down with him upon the ground, seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word to him, for they saw his grief was very great.” … There is science, as well as sympathy in this silence, for in this way, grief most rapidly passes from the bosom of the sufferer into that of his friend.


The persons afflicted with grief should be carried from the room in which their relations have died, nor should they ever see their bodies afterwards. They should by no means be permitted to follow them to the grave. It would be useful to inter the body of the deceased as far as possible from the view of the person, who is the subject of grief … After the expiration of the weeks of mourning, care should be taken never to mention the names of the deceased persons to any of their friends, nor to allude to any thing that by means of association can revive their memory.

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Dental: Brushing up on the History of Tooth Care

“Toothbrushes through the Ages.”
Credit: The Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry

Quick—Grab your toothbrush. There are only two days left in October, which is National Dental Hygiene Month.

Here are some tools people have used to clean their teeth over the ages:

From left to right: The siwak stick or “chew stick”—a twig with frayed ends—has been used since Babylonian times, particularly among Muslim and African cultures. Taub’s patent toothbrush had a convex, semicircular design made to conform to the tongue side of the teeth. This early 20th-century design was made out of celluloid. A rubber-tipped combination gum stimulator and toothbrush with an aluminum handle, pre-1945. TheStrockway rotary toothbrush was designed with long and short bristle tufts to enable them to go over and in between the teeth as the toothbrush was rolled along the teeth. Circa 1950s.
Dr. Mayland’s toothbrush with rubber points instead of bristles, circa 1920s. The Rotor toothbrush was designed to clean the teeth vertically, circa 1930s.

(Information from the Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry.)

Researchers have even found evidence of prehistoric dental care, though they appear to have been after-the-fact, rather than preventive, procedures:

A New York Times article describes the recent discovery of what appears to be a 6,500-year-old beeswax dental filling. Italian researchers used radiocarbon dating and other techniques to analyze the substance, contained in a cracked tooth from a human jawbone in the collection of the Museum of Natural History in Trieste, Italy. (The jawbone was found in 1911, inside a cave in Slovenia.) Their findings appear in the open-access journal PLoS One.

Dentistry may go back as far as 9,000 years. In 2006 anthropologists found 11 drilled human teeth in an Neolithic graveyard in Pakistan, as reported in this National Geographic News article by Amitabh Avasthi.  (The findings appear in the journal Nature.) Avasthi writes, “The discovery suggests a high level of technological sophistication, though the procedure, which involved drills tipped with shards of flint, could hardly have been a painless affair.”

Ouch. I think I’ll go brush one more time.

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Adultery: Men Prosecuted More in Some Medieval Courts

Thanks to Jenny Torres Sanchez, an excellent blogger/YA author, for tipping me off to some interesting research on adultery:

If you were a man living in Late-Medieval Northern France, you might have had an extra incentive to keep your undertunic on. Historian Sara McDougall has found that contrary to common beliefs, men were prosecuted far more often than women for their infidelities.

McDougall, an assistant professor of history at The City University of New York, is also the author of Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). In an email she described to me her most recent findings:

“Scholars generally assume—and until very recently I was one of them—that medieval courts and societies handled adultery quite unfairly depending on the gender of the alleged offender,” McDougall writes. After all, Medieval Europe is “rather infamous” for its sexual double standard. The common idea has been that women typically bore the brunt of adultery prosecutions, while men were freer to frolic.

“According to this line of reasoning, if they actually ever punished men for adultery, it would almost always have been only as the lover of a married woman,” McDougall adds. “That is to say, the prosecution of these men had nothing to do with their own marital status, and everything to do with the fact that they were sleeping with other men’s wives.”

But in her search of court records, McDougall found the opposite to be true: In addition to being prosecuted more, men were most often punished for their trysts with unmarried women. Continue reading