Posted in American Civil War, American Civil War Medicine

American Civil War – Kindness of Strangers, The Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon and The Cooper Shop Hospital, Philadelphia

Food provisions for the war-weary Union Soldier. Exhibition by So.Sk.An.

Amidst all the disease, suffering and death that occurred during the American Civil War, I was heartened to come across an extraordinary act of compassion shown by the citizens of Philadelphia.  The Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon was a 2 storey brick building, 50 yards from Washington Avenue, on Otsego Street.  Philadelphia was the main travel intersection between the East and the seat of rebellion.  Large numbers of troops marched along Washington Avenue before boarding the railroad cars, of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company, for onward transportation. Before the War, Messrs. Cooper & Pearce, owners of The Cooper Shop as it was then known, were involved in the manufacture of shooks for the sugar planters of the West Indies.  

The Saloon operated between 26th May 1861 and 28th August 1865 and served approximately 600,000 patriots. During this period a committee of women, assisted by the generosity of friends and neighbours, took over The Saloon’s organisation.   The committee consisted of: Mrs William Cooper, Mrs Grace Nickels, Mrs Sarah Ewing, Mrs Elizabeth Vansdale, Miss Catherine Vansdale, Mrs Jane Coward, Mrs Susan Turner, Mrs Sarah Mellen, Miss Catherine Alexander, Mrs Mary Plant, Mrs Captain Weston, Mrs Thomas D. Grover and Mrs James M. Moore.  Day and night the team tended to the sick and wounded Union troops, mended and washed clothes and offered all the comforts of home to any soldier who turned-up. The Saloon remained open around the clock and the public were also welcome to visit.  Women from the “neck”, which was the garden area of Philadelphia, came to The Saloon daily with wagons laden with fresh milk.  At one point, 100 gallons of coffee was being made every hour in the shop’s large fireplace. 

Soldiers presenting themselves at The Saloon were in a truly terrible state.  Nearly all were starving, exhausted, badly sunburned (particularly on their faces), wearing filthy, tattered and lice-ridden clothing.  All got a warm welcome from the Saloon team.   Each soldier would be thoroughly washed, supplied with a fresh set of clothes including underwear, socks and mittens and given cup of coffee and some food.  The ladies took care of letter writing requests from the soldiers and attended to their every need with warmth and compassion. 

In December 1861, a private, non-military hospital was established above the main Saloon. The aim of The Cooper Hospital being to create a safe, pleasant ‘home from home’ environment for the sick and convalescing soldier with no strict military discipline or regime imposed. Dr Andrew Nebinger was in charge assisted by Dr George W. Nebinger, both worked tirelessly night and day without pay. In February 1862, Robert Nebinger began work as the Hospital’s dispensing pharmacist. The Hospital also had its own apothecary shop. Originally there were 11 beds and by 1st March 1862 bed capacity had increased to 27. Miss Anna M. Ross was the Lady Principal of the Hospital and oversaw the women who volunteered to nurse the sick and wounded.  Sadly, on 22nd December 1863 aged 50, Miss Ross died. The Hospital entered a 30 day period of mourning and the Manager’s Room remained draped in mourning paraphernalia for 6 months.  Following her death, Mrs Abigail Horner became the Lady Principal.

Conditions in the Hospital were excellent.  The rooms were clean, well-ventilated and brightly lit. In March 1862 the Philadelphia Associates of the US Sanitary Commission visited the Hospital and its Chairman Dr Francis G. Smith stated that he was ‘…impressed with the comfortable and home-like appearance of the Hospital, and with the kindly ministrations of those having it in charge.’  Mrs Dorothea Dix visited the Hospital and her sentiments echoed those of Dr Smith.  She was extremely pleased with what she had seen and gave the venture her highest commendations, fully endorsing its usefulness.  In fact, she was so impressed that after her visit she sent The Hospital a donation of books.  The Hospital closed in the autumn of 1865 and out of the 854 patients treated there, only 14 died.

Posted in Country House, Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton’s Advice to the Footman, Valet, Lady’s Maid and Housemaid.

Advertisement for the Ewbank Carpet Sweeper found in 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

I had fun at the weekend delving into my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition) in order to whet your appetite for the fabulous second series of Downton Abbey, which continues on Sundays, ITV 1, 9pm.  I have chosen extracts from Mrs Beeton’s advice for the Footman, Valet, Lady’s-Maid, Housemaid and also include some household recipes that I hope you will find interesting and useful.


‘Footman’s morning duties – He is expected to rise early in order to get through his early morning work before the family are stirring.  Boots and shoes, knives and forks, should be cleaned, coal scuttles filled, lamps in use trimmed, then any gentleman’s clothes that require it brushed, hot water taken up and baths prepared before he tidies himself, has his own breakfast, and lays that for the family.  At breakfast the footman carries up the urn and places the chief dishes upon the table.  If any waiting is required, he does it assisted by parlour-maid or house-maid.  During the morning his time will be occupied in cleaning plate, windows, etc., according to the rules of the house in which he is engaged, and he will have to answer the front door and look after the sitting-room fires.  After these duties will come laying the table for luncheon.

Afternoon duties –  As at breakfast, where only one man-servant is kept, but little waiting is required at luncheon after the soup or hot dishes have been served.  These taken away, the footman will have his own dinner.  When the family have left the dining-room, the footman clears away, washes the glass used, and cleans the plate.  He then prepares himself either to go out with the carriage or to answer the door to visitors, as the case may be.  When required to go out with the carriage, it is the footman’s duty to see the inside is free from dust, and he should be ready to open and close the door after his mistress.  In receiving messages at the carriage door he should turn his ear to the speaker, so as to comprehend what is said, in order that he may give his directions to the coachman clearly.  When the house he is to call at is reached, he should knock and return to the carriage for orders.  In closing the doors upon the family, he should see that the  handle is securely turned, and that no part of the ladies’ dress is shut in.

Politeness and civility to visitors is one of the things masters and mistresses should exact rigorously.  When visitors present themselves, the servant charged with the duty of opening the door will open it promptly, and answer, without hesitation, if the family are “not at home”, or “engaged”.  On the contrary, if he has no such orders, he will answer affirmatively, open the door wide to admit them, and precede them to open the door of the drawing-room.  If the family are not there, he will place chairs for them, and intimate civilly that he goes to inform his mistress.  If the lady is in her drawing-room, he announces the name of the visitors, having previously acquainted himself with it.  In this part of his duty it is necessary to be very careful to repeat the names correctly; mispronouncing names is very apt to give offence.  When the visitor is departing, the servant should be at hand, ready, when rung for, to open the door; he should open it with a respectful manner, and close it gently beyond the threshold.

Evening duties – For dinner, the footman lays the cloth, arranges knives, forks, and glasses etc and places chairs enough for the party, distributing them equally on each side of the table.   In opening wine, let it be done quietly, and without shaking the bottle; if crusted, let it be inclined to the crusted side, and decanted while in that position.  In opening champagne, it is not necessary to discharge it with a pop; properly cooled, the cork is easily extracted without any explosions; when the cork is out, the mouth of the bottle should be wiped with a napkin. As soon as the drawing-room bell rings for tea, the footman enters with the tray, which has been previously prepared; hands the tray round to the company, with cream and sugar, the tea and coffee being generally poured out, while another attendant hands cakes, toast, or biscuits.  If it is an ordinary family party, where this social meal is prepared by the mistress, he carries the urn or kettle, as the case may be; hands round the toast, or such other eatable as may be required, removing the whole in the same manner when tea is over’            (1915:pp.1764-66)

Valet and the Lady’s-Maid

‘Some of the duties of the valet – His and the lady’s-maid’s day commences by seeing that their employer’s dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before the master or mistress is expected, they will do well to throw up the sash to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to cover the temperature which they know is preferred.  It is their duty to air the body linen before the fire; to lay out the clothes intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned.  All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use.  A valet often accompanies his master when shooting, when he would carry the extra gun and load for him.

Shaving – A valet should be should be prepared to shave his master if required; and he should, besides, be a good hairdresser.  Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the style preferred.  Every fortnight, or three weeks at utmost, the hair should be cut, and the whiskers trimmed as often as required.  A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; the body linen, necktie, which he will put on, if required, and afterwards, waistcoat, coat and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished.  Having thus seen his master dress, if he is about to go out, the valet will hand him his cane, gloves and hat, the latter well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handkerchief, respectfully attend him to the door, open it for him, and receive his last orders for the day.

Hairdressing – is one of the most important parts of the lady’s-maid’s office.  Lessons in hairdressing may be obtained, and at not at unreasonable charge, and a lady’s-maid should initiate herself in the mysteries of hairdressing before entering on her duties.  If a mistress finds her maid handy, and willing to learn, she will not mind the expense of a few lessons, which are almost necessary, as the fashion and mode of dressing the hair is continually changing.  Brushes and combs should be kept scrupulously clean, by washing them about twice a week; to do this oftener spoils the brushes, as very frequent washing makes them so very soft.

Care of linen –  On its return from the wash, it is very necessary to examine every piece separately, so that all missing buttons be supplied, and only articles properly washed in perfect repair passed into the wardrobe.

The Wardrobe – It is the valet’s and lady’s-maid’s duty, where it is permitted, to select from the wardrobe such things as are suitable for the occasion, to see that their employer’s wardrobe is in thorough repair, and to make him or her acquainted with the fact if they see that any additions to it are prepared.  A lady’s-maid should possess a thorough knowledge of dressmaking and repairing and restoring clothes.  Dresses of tweed, and other woollen materials may be laid out on a table and brushed all over; but in general, even in woollen fabrics, the lightness of the issues renders brushing unsuitable to dresses, and it is better to remove the dust from the folds beating them lightly with a handkerchief or thin cloth.  Silk dresses should never be brushed, but rubbed with a piece of merino, or other soft material, of a similar colour, kept for the purpose.  Summer dresses of barège, muslin, mohair, and other light materials, simply require shaking; but if the muslin be tumbled, it must be ironed afterwards.   If feathers have suffered from damp, they should be held near the fire for a few minutes, and restored to their natural state by the hand or a soft brush, or re-curled with a blunt knife, dipped in very hot water.  Satin boots or shoes should be dusted with a soft brush, or wiped with a cloth.  Kid or varnished leather should have the mud wiped off with a sponge charged with milk, which preserves its softness and polish.  Furs, feathers and woollens require the constant care of the waiting-maid.  Furs and feathers not in constant use should be wrapped up in linen washed in lye.  From May to September they are subject to being made the depository of the moth-eggs.  The valet and the lady’s-maid should have a good knowledge of packing, and on them devolves the task of getting tickets, looking out routes, securing seats, carriages and berths, as the case may be; while they are also responsible for the luggage.  When travelling by rail, unless they occupy the same carriage as their master or mistress, they should, when the train stops for any length of time, be in attendance in case anything should be required.  A knowledge of foreign languages is a most useful qualification.’  (1915:pp.1772-4)


‘The upper housemaid’s duties – would include, besides a general superintendence, the care of the household linen, the covering of furniture, the dusting, if not the sweeping, of the drawing-room, the helping to make the chief beds and other tasks, always making it her duty to go the round of the bedrooms, both morning and evening, to see that toilet tables, wash-hand stands, fires, et., are in order. 

The first duty of the housemaid – in winter is to open the shutters of all the lower rooms in the house, and take up the hearthrugs in those rooms which she is going to “do” before breakfast.  After the shutters are all opened, she sweeps the breakfast-room, sweeping the dust towards the fireplace, of course previously removing the fender. She should then lay a cloth (generally made of coarse wrappering) over the carpet in front of the stove, and on this should place her housemaid’s box, containing blacklead brushes, leathers, emery-paper, cloth, black-lead, and all utensils necessary for cleaning a grate, with the cinder-pail on the other side.  She now sweeps up the ashes and deposits them in her cinder-pail, which is a japanned tin pail, with a wire sifter inside, and a closely fitting top.  In this pail the cinders are sifted, and reserved for use in the kitchen or under the copper, the ashes only being thrown away.  Bright grates require unceasing attention to keep them in perfect order.  A day should never pass without the housemaid rubbing with a dry leather the polished parts of a grate, as also the fender and fire-irons.  A careful and attentive housemaid should have no occasion ever to use emery-paper for any part but the bars, which, of course, become blackened by the fire.  Before sweeping the carpet, it is a good practice to sprinkle it all over with tea-leaves, which not only lay all dust, but give a slightly fragrant smell to the room.

Morning work – After the breakfast-room is finished, the housemaid should proceed to sweep down the stairs, commencing at the top, whilst the cook has the charge of the hall, doorstep and passages.  After this she should go into the drawing-room, cover up every article of furniture that is likely to spoil, with large dusting-sheets, and put the chairs together, by turning them seat to seat, and, in fact, make as much room as possible, by placing all the loose furniture in the middle of the room, whilst she sweeps the corners and sides.  When this is accomplished, the furniture can then be put back in its place, and the middle of the room swept, sweeping the dirt, toward the fireplace.

Bedroom work – Breakfast served, the housemaid proceeds to the bedchambers, throws up the sashes, if not already done, pulls up the blinds, throwing back the curtains at the same time, and opens the beds by removing the clothes, placing them over a horse, or failing that, over the backs of chairs.  She now proceeds to empty the slops.  In doing this, everything is emptied into the slop-pail, leaving a little scalding-hot water for a minute in vessels that require it; adding a drop of turpentine to the water, when that is not sufficient to cleanse them.

Lights – The chamber candlesticks should be brought down and cleaned, gas and electric globes cleaned, and the parlour lamps trimmed – and here the housemaid’s utmost care is required.  In cleaning candlesticks, as in every other cleaning, she should have cloths and brushes kept for that purpose alone; the knife used to scrape them should be applied to no other purpose; the tallow-grease should be thrown into a box kept for the purpose; the same with everything connected with the lamp-trimming; always bearing in mind, that without perfect cleanliness, which involves occasional scalding, no lamp can be kept in order.  After scalding a lamp, it should be rinsed out with a little spirits; this will prevent the oil sputtering on first being lighted after the scalding.’ (1915:pp. 1775-1780)

Historic household cleaning products, the Village Shop exhibit, Breamore Countryside Museum, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.

Household Recipes

‘Black Lace, to Revive – Make some black tea about the strength usual for drinking and strain it off the leaves.  Pour enough tea into a basin to cover the material; let it stand 10-12 hours, then squeeze the lace several times, but do not rub it.  Dip it frequently into the tea, which will at length assume a dirty appearance.  Have ready some gum-water and press the lace gently through it; roll it in a cloth and pat it well; after which, pin it to a towel in any shape you wish it to take.  When nearly dry cover it with another towel and iron it with a cool iron.  The lace, if previously sound and discoloured only, will after this process look as good as new.

Burnt Saucepans – Pans and saucepans that have been burnt should never be filled with soda water, as this, although it removes the burnt portions, also makes the saucepans liable to burn again.  Instead of soda water, fill them with salt and water, and leave till next day, then bring slowly to boiling point.  The burnt particles will come off without any difficulty, and there will be no after effects.

Crickets and Beetles – If the rind of cucumber is laid on floors where crickets and beetles abound, they will soon disappear.  A method of destroying the pests is to place a deep saucer of stale beer upon the hearth at night, and rest three or four sticks upon the edge for the insects to crawl up.  When once they get into the beer they soon drown.

Finger Nails –  If the finger nails have become stained or discoloured in any way they should be soaked in a pint of warm water containing a dessertspoonful of lemon juice.  If the nails are very brittle, it is a good plan to dip them for a few minutes each day in lukewarm sweet oil, which has the effect of making them less liable to crack or break off at the least provocation.

Flies – Beer or treacle in a saucer, or treacle smeared on sheets of paper will attract and kill flies.  If a small quantity, say the equivalent of a teaspoonful, of carbolic acid be poured on a hot shovel it will drive files from the room.  A sprig of fresh mint hung up in a kitchen will also drive away flies.

Hair, Treatment of – Twice a month wash the head with a quart of soft water, in which a handful of bran has been boiled, and in which a little white soap has been dissolved.  Next rub the yolk of an egg, and wash it off thoroughly with pure water, rinsing the head well.  Wipe and rub the hair dry with a towel, and comb the hair from the head, parting it with the fingers.  If the hair has been very dry before the washing, a little bay rum should be used.

Lace, to Preserve – Silk lace should be soaked in hot milk and borax to prevent it from turning yellow.  White paper should never be used for keeping lace in when not in use, but blue tissue paper must be employed, the corners being folded over and secured with pins, so that the rays of light may not discolour the lace.

Laundry Soap – Mix 6 lb of washing soda with 3 lb of unslaked lime, and pour 4 gallons of boiling water over both.  Stand until very clear, then drain off the water and add 6 lb of pure fat.  Boil all together until it begins to harden, stirring almost constantly.  This will require nearly 2 hours.  When boiling, thin with 2 gallons of water.  Try the soap by pouring a little on a cold plate, and when thick enough, throw in a handful of salt, and take from the fire.  Pour into a wooden tub wet with cold water.  When cold cut into bars or cakes.

Lip salve – A good salve, useful for cracked lips, is made of equal parts of almond or olive-oil and the best white wax.  The latter should be melted, then set at the side of the fire, the oil added, and both beaten together and stored in small pots.

Pomade – Beat up 1/4 lb of pure hog’s lard, then add 2 pennyworth of oil of almonds, and mix thoroughly, adding a few drops of any scent that may be preferred. Put the mixture into small pots, and keep carefully covered.

Ribbons to clean – Mix 1/2 a pint of gin, 1/2 a lb of honey, 1/2 a lb of soft soap, and 1/2 a pint of water together; then lay each breadth of ribbon on a clean table, and scrub well on the soiled side with the mixture.  Have ready plenty of cold water and into it dip the ribbon, holding it by the corners.  Do not wring the ribbon, but hang it up to drip for a minute or two, after which it should be laid in a clean cloth and ironed quickly with a very hot iron.

Satin Shoes – White satin dancing shoes which have become soiled may be easily cleaned by means of spirits of wine.  A piece of new white flannel should be dipped in the spirits and rubbed in a rotary direction over the soiled portions, a fresh piece of flannel being substituted whenever this is necessary.  Shoes of white satin should always be kept in blue tissue paper, and if laid on one side for any length of time the paper should be covered with a thick piece of wadding so as to exclude the air and keep the satin from turning yellow.

Shampoo – Shave 4 ozs of good white Castile soap, and pour over it a pint of boiling water.  Put it into a porcelain vessel, where it will keep hot until the soap is dissolved.  Keep this after it cools in a glass jar, as it becomes a kind of jelly.  When ready to use it, beat the white of an egg into it.  Wet the head all over, rubbing the mixture into the scalp well before using any water; then rinse the head several times, with hot water first and finishing with tepid.

Silk Stockings, to wash – For these soap should not be used, but a decoction of bran and water.  To each pint of water add 2 tablespoonfuls of bran and wash the stockings in this.  Rinse thoroughly in a succession of clear waters.

Tea Stains on Linen – If fine linen is stained with tea, even after a long time, the stains can be removed by applying glycerine.  A little of the best glycerine should be rubbed on the stained parts before washing.

Violet Powder – Reduce 6 ozs of the best starch to the finest powder, and sift it through a piece of muslin; then rub into it 2 drachms of powdered orris-root.  The powder can be tinted with rose-pink or a little stone-blue.  If desired it can be scented with lavender, lemon or attar of roses.

Wine Stains on Linen – When these are observed a little milk should be put on the fire to boil, and when boiling the stained portion of linen should be held in it until the spot disappears sufficiently to enable it to be washed out completely with soap and water.’  (1915:pp.1790-1818)

For the more information about Breamore House and Countryside Museum. Click Here.

Selection of historic cleaning products on display in the Village Shop exhibit, Breamore Countryside Museum, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
Posted in American Civil War, American Civil War Medicine, History, History of Medicine

American Civil War Medicine Part 6. Female Surgeons – Defiance in the Face of Adversity.

The Southern Skirmish Association, Bath 2011.

A few words upon a very important aspect of this question – the right of women to compete with men in any occupation by which they can earn a livelihood.  A woman has to pay like a man, she has neither mercy nor favour shown her because she is a woman, therefore she should have the same chance as a man, and the same pay if she can render as good work.  Why should not women enter the legal and medical profession…..During a four years’ sojourn in America I had the pleasure of knowing Dr Mary Walker, Dr Elizabeth Blackwell and hundreds of others who are doing the noblest work that is being done in the United States at the present time.  The medical profession is one particularly adapted to women.’

Ada Campbell, Liverpool, 21st September 1891

Ada Campbell wrote the above letter, on equal rights for women in the professions, 26 years after the end of The American Civil War (1861-1865).   Nearly 1,000 women disguised themselves as men and served as soldiers during the campaign, 3,000 white women became nurses and a handful of women served as physicians.  Dr Mary Edwards Walker, Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, Dr Esther Hill Hawks and Dr Sarah Ann Chadwick Clapp were among a pioneering group of medical professionals who broke with social conventions by offering their services for frontline duty.  They received a hostile reception from their male counterparts, who firmly believed that field medicine was a male environment and no place for women.  Undeterred, the feisty females continued to flout the accepted norm and all 4 demonstrated defiance in the face of adversity.

Dr Blackwell (1821-1920) was the first female MD in the US, graduating from Geneva Medical College in 1849.  During the War she trained the nurses that were sent to the Union Army.  Dr Clapp was appointed assistant surgeon of the 7th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry and served in post between 15th November 1861 and 25th August 1862.  She also served as assistant surgeon/surgeon in general hospitals in Cairo, Illinois and aboard transport ships.  However, the medical examining board refused to give her an examination and she never received a commission or pay for her War work.  Dr Hawks (1833-1906) graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1857.  At the start of the War she followed her husband, John Milton Hawks a regimental doctor with the U.S. Coloured Troops, to the South Carolina Sea Islands and Florida.  She treated the wounded from the attack on Fort Wagner and the Battle of Olustee.

Dr Walker (1832-1919) graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855.  At the outbreak of War she applied for a surgeon’s contract, a request which was flatly refused by the Medical Department.  She did not give-up and remained in Washington serving as a nurse in a number of camps and hospitals for Indiana troops.  Whilst working at the Indiana Hospital, Washington she met Dorothea Lynde Dix.  Dix had been appointed on 10th June 1861 by the Secretary of War as Superintendent of Female Nurses.  She was a formidable character and insisted that her nurses were over 30 and plain, lest they should incite sexual desire in the surgeons.  Dix’s nurses wore brown/black dresses, no bows, no curls, no jewelry and no hooped skirts.

Mary made repeated attempts to secure the allusive surgeon’s contract and was abused for her demands.  After proving her worth during the battles of Fredericksburg (1862) and Chickamauga (1863) where she worked, unpaid, as a field surgeon, General Ambrose Burnside declared his confidence in her medical skills and recommended her for a commission.   In September 1863, Major General Thomas appointed her an assistant surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland and she was assigned to the 52nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry serving in Chattanooga.  Finally, in October 1864, she was officially commissioned as a Contract Surgeon and received the rank of First Lieutenant.

Although a talented and competent surgeon, Dr Walker’s temperament was described by her fellow surgeons as being cantankerous, abrasive, harassing, a professional scold and some thought her insane.  Always outspoken and never afraid to challenge her colleagues and their decisions. She was appalled that the battlefield surgeons were performing amputations with such regularity and in her view many were unnecessary.   She would undermine her colleagues by conspiring with the wounded soldier to challenge the Surgeon’s decision to remove a damaged limb.  She was equally horrified at the heavy doses of mercuric compounds that were being given to patients.

Dr Walker was a beautiful woman, with raven hair which she kept long and curled so that no one would think that she was a man.  The reason that she may have been mistaken for a man, was due to her unusual attire, for which she was famed and criticised for throughout her life.   Beginning at medical school she wore bloomers, much to the disgust of her lecturers.  Bloomers were the outfit of choice for radical feminists of the day and were first invented by Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), who spearheaded the movement.  When Dr Walker began her medical career she abandoned the bloomers and wore instead a modified version of male dress, a calf-length skirt worn over trousers, teamed with an Army uniform jacket.  Whilst on front-line duty she would always carry 2 pistols about her person.

On 10th April 1864, following a battle, Mary had stayed behind to tend Confederate wounded upon retirement of the Union Army.  She had taken a wrong turn in the camp and was captured by Confederate troops and charged with being a spy.   The Confederates believed that her male attire was a deliberate attempt to don a disguise and infiltrate the encampment.  She spent 4 months in prison and continued to be abused for the manner in which she dressed.  Eventually in August she was exchanged for a Confederate surgeon whom the Union Army had captured.  She was proud of the fact that the price on her head was that equal to a male surgeon and often boasted about it throughout her life.

In 1866, she became President of the National Dress Reform Association which urged women to discard their corsets on health grounds and adopt dress reform.  The Association sought to pioneer a movement which necessitated a change of style in the dress of American women.   In July 1866 she was arrested in New York for the crime of impersonating a man.  The Dundee Courier & Argus reported the incident:

Miss Dr Mary E. Walker who indulges in the Bloomer costume, appeared one day in Broadway with a very long train of boys.  A policeman arrested her, and took her before the justice in question, on charge of being dressed in the attire of a man.  It was alleged that the crowd which followed Dr Mary sufficiently proved that no deception was attempted with regard to her sex.  A lawyer of the Police Court declared that “any man or woman who should dress in a way that would attract attention was violating the law.”  To this it was replied triumphantly that the great majority of New Yorker’s dressed for the purpose of attracting attention.  We say triumphantly, for the justice decided that no case was made out against the fair physician, who thereupon returned to Broadway, where she has since appeared in her “Bloomer” at her pleasure.’

Mary always wore male dress and even in her final years, she could be seen about town wearing a wing collar, bow tie, top hat and carrying  a cane.  She was awarded the Medal of Honor in November 1865 for her services at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).

To find out more about So.Sk.An.  Click here.

Surgical instruments from The American Civil War, owned by members of So.Sk.An.
Posted in American Civil War, American Civil War Medicine, History of Medicine

American Civil War Medicine – Part 5 – The Scourge of “Yellow Jack”

Medicines of The American Civil War. Exhibition by So.Sk.An.

‘The Federal army may soon have to contend with a more deadly foe than the Southerners.  The yellow fever season is fast approaching, and, if the Vomito stalk through its ranks, he will slay more than the sword has done; and it is possible that the Confederacy have calculated on the reinforcement.’

(New York State, 14th July 1862)

The yellow fever is raging with unabating fury at Wilmington, N.C.  Letters from the  scourged city are many, calling for help from abroad.  Its rapid spread and malignity arises from utter ignorance of the physicians and others in their treatment of the disease.’

(The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, 18th October 1862)

I recently came across the above in contemporary British and American newspapers.  There are many other examples of media reports on the devastation caused by the scourge of yellow fever or “Yellow Jack” as it was referred to in everyday parlance.  The disease was a particular problem in the South, killing over 10,000 people and, like malaria, epidemics occurred mainly during the summer and autumn months.  Outbreaks were reported in Charleston, Galveston, Mobile, New Orleans, Norfolk, Savannah and many more cities besides.  Wilmington’s epidemic, which killed 15% of its population, was traced to the arrival of the blockade runner Kate.   If you did manage to survive yellow fever, which was rare as mortality rates were over 50%, then you would acquire lifelong immunity.  

Yellow fever is transmitted from person-to-person by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.  This type of mosquito lived in the Southern States and laid its eggs in hollow logs and other receptacles that contained fresh water.  Horse troughs, clogged gutters and rubbish lining the streets, that had been filled with rainwater, were popular incubators for the Aedes aegypti’s eggs.  During the winter, the heavy frosts helped to curb the mosquito population.   The mid 19th century American physician was ignorant to the causes of this disease.  It was the popular held belief that yellow fever was a mysterious filth that lived in certain types of clothing and travelled aboard ships.  

Drugs and therapies for its treatment were based upon antebellum practices of inducing vomiting, sweating and purging of the bowels or bladder to release toxins from the body.  Once the toxins had been expelled, then the diseased body could be brought back into balance.  The most popular medication administered by the Army Surgeon was calomel, containing a mix of alcohol, opium, honey, chalk and mercury.   A typical treatment regime for a Civil War soldier suffering from yellow fever would have been:

  • mix of spirits of ether and whiskey;
  • calomel and 15 grains of rhubarb;
  • acid drinks;
  • liquid potasse citrate;
  • 1 ounce of castor oil;
  • 30 drops of laudanum;
  • 6 drops of oil of turpentine.

In the advanced stages of the disease you bleed from the nose and mouth, suffer crippling headaches, fever, jaundice and vomit a substance that resembles coffee grounds.  This blackened, grainy substance is in fact half-digested blood, caused by internal hemorrhaging.  Army Surgeons in the Civil War were accused of prescribing calomel too readily to their patients.   In the Spring of 1863 an ambitious young Surgeon General, Dr William A. Hammond (1828-1900), ruffled more than a few feathers amongst his colleagues.   Hammond believed calomel was indeed being overused and he decided to do something about it.  He issued the infamous, Circular No. 6, insisting that the medication be removed from all the Union Army Surgeons’ supply tables.  Hammond believed that its overuse was the cause of a range of nasty side effects amongst the soldiers.  Examples of the side effects that Hammond cited include:  melancholy, hypersalivation and gangrene of the mouth.  His colleagues were angry at this dictate and at what they thought to be interference in matters that were not of his concern.  The situation escalated resulting in Hammond’s eventual court-martial.  It wasn’t until 1878 that he was finally exonerated of the charges brought against him.

To find out more about So.Sk.An.  Click here.

Posted in Museum

Crofting on the Isle of Skye

Loch Dunvegan, Duirinish Peninsula, Isle of Skye.

A croft is a small holding or strip of land, between 1 and 50 acres.  The crofting lifestyle is common in the Highlands of Scotland, particularly on the Isle of Skye.  It is a type of land tenure and method of generating small-scale food production. Only a few crofts are large enough for the crofter (tenant/owner) to earn their income solely from their land.  Many of the modern-day crofters have to supplement their income with other methods of employment, as only a small percentage of crofts are large enough to support a self-sustaining lifestyle.  The croft house and outbuildings are the property of the tenant and since 1976 the crofter is legally entitled to purchase their croft land. The purchase of croft land is actively encouraged and tenants have access to special grants and loans to enable them to do so.

View of Loch Dunvegan from Colbost Folk Museum, Colbost, Isle of Skye.

Historically, the life of a crofter was a tough existence and consequently many were forced to seek a new life overseas.  In September 1771,  370 crofters sailed to North Carolina and by the end of the 1700s more than 2,000 men had emigrated to the New World.  Those who stayed behind became increasingly angry at their treatment and continual persecution.  Restrictions were commonplace, eviction was brutal, owning dogs and collecting seaweed from the shoreline (a staple of crofting life) was soon banned.   Crofter rebellions took place right across the Isle of Skye and military intervention was not uncommon to restore law and order.

Western Isle blackhouse, Colbost Folk Museum, Colbost, Isle of Skye.

In 1885, the Government introduced a Crofters Bill and this was shortly after abandoned following a change of government.   It wasn’t until June 1886, under Gladstone’s government, that the Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act was passed.  This enabled the survival of future generations of crofters by allowing the croft to be handed down to his family and also giving the tenant more rights.

Inside the croft house, Colbost Folk Museum, Colbost, Isle of Skye.
Inside croft house, Colbost Folk Museum, Colbost, Isle of Skye.

At the Colbost Folk Museum (Tel: 01470 521 296, small admission charge applies), near Dunvegan on the northern part of the Duirinish Peninsula, there is an example of a 19th century croft house.  The type of house on display is known as a Western Isle blackhouse.   The blackhouse consisted of 2 rooms, a kitchen and a living-room as well as 1 bedroom.  The peat fire was kept burning continuously in a croft house creating a dense, smokey atmosphere.  The blackhouses were warm and cosy in the harsh Highland winters.

Bed in the croft house, Colbost Folk Museum, Colbost, Isle of Skye.

The Museum also has on display two thatched outhouses, one of which contains a replica of an illicit Whisky still.   The Museum was founded in 1969 by local man Peter MacAskill (the same gentleman who founded the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum). 

Illicit still in one of the thatched outhouses, Colbost Folk Museum, Colbost, Isle of Skye.
Posted in Mrs Beeton, TV Programme

Mrs Beeton’s Advice to Cooks, Kitchenmaids and Parlourmaids

From Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.

This will be my last posting for today.  Tonight heralds the welcomed return of the second series of Downton Abbey, ITV1 9pm.   I couldn’t resist dipping once again into my copy of Mrs Beeton Book of Household Management to see what advice she gives to Cooks, Kitchenmaids and Parlourmaids.  I want to share with you some extracts from the 1915 edition of her book.  These will give you some idea of what life must have been like for the real life, hard-working servants below stairs.  Life was structured, guidelines strict and long hours were the norm.  Losing your job was only ever one faux-pas away.

The Cook and Kitchenmaid

‘Cleanliness – A dirty kitchen is a disgrace to all concerned.  Good cookery cannot exist without absolute cleanliness.  It takes no longer to keep a kitchen clean and orderly than untidy and dirty, for the time that is spent in keeping it in good order is saved when culinary operations are going on and everything is clean and in its place.  Personal cleanliness is most necessary, particularly with regards to the hands.

Dress – When at your work, dress suitably; wear short dresses, well-fitting boots, and large aprons with bibs, of which every cook and kitchenmaid should have a good supply, and you will be comfortable as you never can be with long dresses, small aprons, and slipshod shoes, the latter being most trying in a warm kitchen, which may very likely have a stone floor.  A maidservant’s working dress, with its neat and becoming cap, is far from ugly, and nothing is more suitable for them whilst at their work.

Economy – Never waste or throw away anything that can be turned to account…. Go early every morning to your larder and while changing plates, looking to your bread pan (which should always be emptied and wiped out every morning), take notice if there is anything not likely to keep, and acquaint your mistress with the fact.  It is better if there is a spare cupboard in the kitchen to keep any baked pastry there, and thus preserve its crispness.

Punctuality – This is an indispensable quality in a cook.  When there is a large dinner to prepare get all you can done the day before or early on the morning of the day.  This will save a great deal of time and enable you, with good management, to send up your dinner in good time and style.

Washing of Dishes – Do not be afraid of hot water in washing up dishes and dirty cooking utensils; as these are essentially greasy, luke-warm water cannot possibly have the effect of cleansing them thoroughly, and soda in the water is a great saving of time as is also a fresh supply of hot water.   After washing the plates and dishes wash out your dish tubs with a little soap, soda and water, and scrub them often; wash the dish cloth also and wring it out, and after wiping out the tubs stand them to dry.  Pudding cloths and jelly bags should have immediate attention after being used; the former should be well washed, scalded, and hung up to dry.  Let them be perfectly aired before being put away.  No soda should be used in washing pudding cloths.

Whilst a cook should be versed in all the details of her position, a mistress should never forget her own duty of seeing that the laws of economy, cleanliness and order are not neglected by her servants.  The servants who reflect that some day they will probably need neatness, cleanliness and economy in their own homes, and for their own benefit, will feel grateful to the employer who insists on the practise of these virtues.’ (1915 edition, pp.40-42)

The Parlourmaid

‘A parlourmaid is kept in many households in place of a single footman, and in these cases her duties (indoor duties we should say) are practically the same as his, with attendance on her mistress in place of that given by him to his master. 

The duties of the parlourmaid – are to open the door to visitors, show them into the drawing-room, bring up afternoon tea and clear it away, lay the table for luncheon and dinner, and wait during the latter meal, with or without the assistance of the housemaid; she keeps the linen in repair, waits upon her mistress, assisting her to dress when required, also upon any lady visitor.  She has often to help in bed making, and is generally required to dust the drawing-room, often to arrange the flowers for that and  the dining-room, to put up fresh curtains, look after the drawing-room fire, and answer the sitting-room bell.  She washes up the breakfast, tea and coffee things, and the glass and plate from dinner, and the plate is under her charge to be kept clean and in order.  She does, in fact, all the lighter and less menial work of a housemaid.

Everyday dress – As a parlourmaid, her morning attire should be a print gown, simple white cap and white apron, so that she is always ready to answer bells.  In the afternoon her dress should be a simply made black one, relieved by white-collar, cuffs and cap, and a pretty lace-trimmed bib apron.

Evening work – Dinner over, the parlourmaid will now have to remove and wash up the plate and glasses used, restoring everything to its place; next prepare the tea and take it up, bringing the tea-things down when finished with, and lastly, give any attendance required in the bedrooms.’ (1915 edition: pp.1774-1775)

At The St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, New Street, Lymington, Hampshire, SO41 9BH, there will be an exhibition between 26th November 2011 and 21st January 2012 called ‘From Parlourmaid to Peer – Life on the Country Estates’ .   On Saturday 26th November, 10am-4pm, The St. Barbe Museum have a ‘Parlourmaid to Peer’ Open Day to celebrate the launch of this community history exhibition.  The exhibition will explore life above and below stairs on local country houses and estates.  For further information, click here.


Posted in Activity, Archaeology, Event, History, History of Medicine, TV Programme, World War One

Archaeological Digs near Winchester and Heritage Open Days 2011

View across the Hospital Field on the outskirts of Winchester, Hampshire. Site of former Leper Hospital.

Situated approximately one mile outside the city of Winchester, on the Alresford Road, is the site of St. Mary Magdalen Hospital, a former medieval leper hospital (‘a lazar house’).   It is possible that this Leprosaria was one of the England’s first hospitals.  Archaeologists at The University of Winchester began excavating the site in 2007.   In 2000 Channel 4’s Time Team also conducted a short excavation at the site.  The Hospital began mid 12th Century, was reformed and rebuilt in the 14th Century and demolished in the 16th Century to make way for brick-built almshouses.   The almshouses were finally demolished in the 1780’s by order of the then Bishop of Winchester.  The site does not contain any above ground evidence.  I was fortunate to be able to visit this extraordinary archaeological dig in September 2010.

Excavations in 2010 of the former St. Mary Magdalen Hospital, Winchester, Hampshire.


Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease as it is also known, is a particularly nasty condition.   The skeleton of a leprosy sufferer is quite distinctive.   The facial skeleton will show signs of degeneration, the foot phalanges will be wasted and the lower legs and feet will have bony changes.  Sometimes, although not as frequently as once believed, extreme cases led to amputation.   During the Middle Ages lepers were thought to have been punished by God for the sin of inappropriate sexual conduct. However, we now know that leprosy is a highly contagious disease spread from person to person via exposure to respiratory droplets.   Victorian archaeologists and historians believed that medieval society treated lepers as social outcasts, one of the reasons why leper colonies were located away from ordinary citizens on the outskirts of a village or town.  The excavations taking place near Winchester reveal that the patients were actually well cared for.  The site provides a fascinating insight into the origins of institutional care in early Medieval English Society. 

Foundations of Hampshire's largest First World War bases, near Winchester, Hampshire.

In a field opposite the site of the Hospital, Archaeologists have also discovered the foundations of Hampshire’s largest First World War base camp.  The camp consisted of a stable block, barrack blocks on wooden bases, drainage trenches, and gravel paths.  Brick foundations have been unearthed of the camp cinema-theatre which provided entertainment to the troops before they left for the battlefields of France and Belgium.  Again, no above ground evidence now exists.

Image of WW1 base camp theatre-cinema as it looked originally on the site.
Images of how the WW1 base camp would have looked.

If you want to find-out more about archaeological digs across Britain then I recommend the BBC’s Digging for Britain.  The second series began Friday 9th September 2011, 9pm on BBC 2.

Don’t miss the superb Heritage Open Days taking place between the 8th and 11th September.  Free events and activities will be happening right across England.  Some events require pre-booking but many do not.  There are 4,300 entries on HOD’s register this year so you are bound to find something happening near to you.  Check-out what’s on in your area.  I have two fantastic days out planned this weekend and will be posting about them in due course.  This is your perfect opportunity to discover England’s hidden heritage and even better it is absolutely free!

Posted in Event

Bisterne Scarecrow Festival 2011

Bisterne Scarecrow Festival 2011, 3rd Place in pairs category, one half of 'This is better than gardening'.

Last month we were out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive in the New Forest National Park.   Although the area is familiar territory to us, we managed to get a little bit lost after taking a wrong turn down a narrow country lane.   Unfortunately, going ‘off piste’ in the middle of a National Park is never a good idea, petrol stations are few and far between.  Eventually we found civilisation and a garage, which was situated on the edge of the lovely little village of Bisterne.  Bisterne also happened to be hosting its Annual Scarecrow Festival.  Verges, greens and front gardens were strewn with tableaux vivants made-up of assorted straw/papier mâché figures wearing clothing sourced from attic trunks. Here are a selection of my photos from this year’s entrants.  


Entrant 'That's Another Fine Miss'. Winning the group category and becoming overall champion.
Entrant 'Ladies Day has gone GaGa!'. Winning 3rd place in the group category.
Entrant 'Rockers' by Bisterne Rock and Roll Club.

One of the exhibits from entrant 'Wind in the Willows' which won 2nd place in the group category.

The Festival began in 2002 and has gone from strength to strength with visitors coming from far and wide to experience the quirky happening.  This year the event ran from the 21st August until  the 4th September.  All proceeds from entrants’ fees and collection buckets are put to good use in the local community.  Proceeds are also put towards the restoration and upkeep of the Village Hall.

Bisterne Village Hall.

In Britain during the Middle Ages children were often employed to chase crows away from the farmer’s crops.  They would charge around the field banging blocks of wood together.   In 1348 the Black Death swept across Europe decimating the population and consequently the number of children dwindled dramatically.    Enterprising farmers came-up with an alternative,  they stuffed clothes with straw, used a turnip for a head and positioned these rudimentary ‘crowscarers’  in their crop fields.  This proved a highly successful solution.

Homage in papier mâché to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Bisterne Scarecrow Festival 2011.


Posted in Mrs Beeton, TV Programme

Mrs Beeton’s advice for the Butler

The Butler's Pantry, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.

The excitement is building, not long to go now before the second series of ITV’s Downton Abbey returns to our screens on Sunday 18th September.  I have delved, once more, into my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management to bring you more illuminating advice from Mrs B for staff below stairs. 

Chapter 68 – Domestic servants and their duties – The Butler

‘The butler is the head of the male house-servants, and his duties are the most responsible, not the least amongst them being the superintending of the men under him if there be several.  To him is confided the charge of all the most valuable articles in daily use, and under his sole charge is the cellar.  It is needless to say, therefore, that he should be a man whose conduct is above suspicion, as his influence for good or bad will materially affect the other male domestics.

The domestic duties of the butler are to bring in, the eatables at breakfast and wait upon the family at that meal, assisted by the footman, and see to the cleanliness of everything at table.  On taking away, he removes the tray with the china and plate, for which he is responsible.  At luncheon, he arranges the meal, and waits un-assisted, the footman being now engaged in other duties.  At dinner, he places the silver and plated articles on the table and sees that everything is in its place.  Where the dishes are carved on the dinner table he carries in the first dish, and announces in the drawing-room that dinner is on the table, and respectfully stands by the door until the company are seated, when he takes his place behind his master’s chair on the left, to remove the covers, landing them to the other attendants to carry out.  After the first course of plates is supplied, his place is at the sideboard to serve the wines, but only when called on.  The first course ended, he rings the cook’s bell, and hands the dishes from the table to the other servants to carry away, receiving from them the second course, which he places on the table, removing the covers as before, and again taking his place at the sideboard.

Before dinner he should satisfy himself that the lamps, candles, electric globes or gas burners are in perfect order, if not lighted, which will usually be the case.  Having served every one with their share of the desert, put the fires in order (when these are used), and seen the lights are all right, at a signal from his master, he and the footman leave the room.  He now proceeds to the drawing-room, arranges the fireplace, and sees to the lights; he then returns to his pantry, prepared to answer the bell, and attend to the company, while the footman is clearing away and cleaning the plate and glasses.

After dinner the butler receives the desert from the other servants, and arranges it on the table, with plates and glasses, and then takes his place behind his master’s chair to hand the wines and ices, while the footman stands behind his mistress for the same purpose, the other attendants leaving the room.

In addition to these duties, the butler, where only one footman is kept, will be required to perform some of the duties of the valet and to pay bills.  But the real duties of the butler are in the wine cellar; there he should be competent to advise his master to the price and quality of the wine to be laid in; “fine”, bottle, cork, and seal it, and place it in the bins.  Brewing, racking, and bottling malt liquors belong to his office, as well as their distribution.  These and other drinkables are brought from the cellar every day by his own hands, except where an under-butler is kept; and a careful entry of every bottle used, entered in the cellar book.’ (pp. 1762-4, 1915 edition)

Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Literature, Museum

Martha Lloyd – Housekeeper, Cook and Confidante to the Austen ladies

Jane Austen's cottage, Chawton, Hampshire

Novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817), her sister Cassandra, their mother and close family friend Martha Lloyd came to live in the tiny village of Chawton, Hampshire in 1809.  The cottage is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum.   Jane’s brother, Edward, had inherited the Knights’ Chawton estate and was in a position to let his two sisters and widowed mother use the cottage for the rest of their lives. Martha had collected recipes for food and household remedies for a number years.  When the ladies moved into this charming cottage, Martha became the housekeeper and cook.  

Bakehouse oven at Jane Austen's Cottage, Chawton, Hampshire.

One of Jane’s brothers, Francis (Sir Francis Austen) was widowed in 1823  when his wife Mary died after giving birth to their 11th child.  In 1828 he remarried Martha, a blushing bride at the ripe old age of 62, she became Lady Austen.  Martha died in 1843.

Chawton House, country house of Edward Austen-Knight, Chawton, Hampshire.

Jane died on 18th July 1817 and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.   Cassandra and Mrs Austen remained at the cottage in Chawton until their deaths in 1845 and 1827 respectively.  They are both buried in the churchyard at St. Nicholas Church which is situated in the grounds of Chawton House.  Edward Austen-Knight’s son, Charles Bridges Knight, was Rector of St. Nicholas from 1837 until his death thirty years later.

St. Nicholas Church, Chawton, Hampshire.
Mrs Austen and daughter Cassandra are buried in the churchyard at St. Nicholas Church, Chawton, Hampshire.

For further information about Jane Austen and Chawton, the BBC have recently broadcast a superb new series on the Regency era, Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency – Episode 2 ‘Developing the Regency Brand’.