Author gave timely tips for 19th century women

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Lydia Maria Child (1802 – 1880) was an abolitionist and advocate for the rights of women, African-Americans and Native Americans, as well as a popular author from the 1820s through the 1850s.

Although her work is mostly forgotten today, many of us over a certain age are familiar with her poem, “Over the River and Through the Wood,” about visiting grandfather’s house on Thanksgiving Day.

I found the following “General Maxims for Health” in a book she published in 1832 titled The American Frugal Housewife — which claimed to be dedicated to “those who are not ashamed of economy.”

– Rise early. Eat simple food. Take plenty of exercise. Never fear a little fatigue.

– Let not children be dressed in tight clothes; it is necessary their limbs and muscles should have full play, if you wish for either health or beauty.

– Avoid the necessity of a physician, if you can, by careful attention to your diet. Eat what best agrees with your system, and resolutely abstain from what hurts you, however well you may like it. A few days’ abstinence, and cold water for a beverage, has driven off many an approaching disease.

– If you find yourself really ill, send for a good physician. Have nothing to do with quacks; and do not tamper with quack medicines. You do not know what they are; and what security have you that they know what they are?

– Wear shoes that are large enough. It not only produces corns, but makes the feet misshapen, to cramp them.

– Wash very often, and rub the skin thoroughly with a hard brush.

– Let those who love to be invalids drink strong green tea, eat pickles, preserves, and rich pastry. As far as possible, eat and sleep at regular hours.

– Wash the eyes thoroughly in cold water every morning. Do not read or sew at twilight, or by too dazzling a light. If far-sighted, read with rather less light, and with the book somewhat nearer to the eye, than you desire. If nearsighted, read with a book as far off as possible. Both these imperfections may be diminished in this way.

– Clean teeth in pure water two or three times a day; but, above all, be sure to have them clean before you go to bed. Honey mixed with pure pulverized charcoal is said to be excellent to cleanse the teeth, and make them white. Lime-water with a little Peruvian bark is very good to be occasionally used by those who have defective teeth, or an offensive breath.

– Have your bed-chamber well aired; and have fresh bed linen every week. Never have the wind blowing directly upon you from open windows during the night. It is not healthy to sleep in heated rooms.

– Let children have their bread and milk before they have been long up. Also cold water and a run in the fresh air before breakfast.

– Too frequent use of an ivory comb injures the hair. Thorough combing, washing in suds, or rum, and thorough brushing, will keep it in order; and the washing does not injure the hair, as is generally supposed.

– Keep children’s hair cut close until ten or twelve years old; it is better for health and the beauty of the hair. Do not sleep with hair frizzled, or braided. Do not make children cross-eyed by having hair hang about their foreheads, where they see it continually.

– Those who have tried other remedies in vain for piles, have found relief from the following medicine: stew a handful of low mallows (Flowers of the Malvaceae Plant, such as Hibiscus) in about three gills of milk; strain it, and mix about half the quantity of West India molasses with it. As warm as is agreeable.

– It is said that if the top of a wart be wet and rubbed two or three times a day with a piece of unslaked lime, it cures the wart soon, and leaves no scar.

– The Indians have great belief in the efficacy of poultices of stewed cranberries, for the relief of cancers. They apply them fresh and warm every ten or fifteen minutes, night and day. Whether this will effect a cure I know not; I simply know that the Indians strongly recommend it. Salts, or some simple physic, is taken every day during the process.

– Nothing is better than ear-wax to prevent the painful effects resulting from a wound by a nail, skewer, etc. It should be put on as soon as possible. Those who are troubled with cracked lips have found this remedy successful when others have failed. It is one of those sorts of cures, which are very likely to be laughed at; but I know of its having produced very beneficial results.

– If a person who is burned will patiently hold the injured part in water, it will prevent the formation of a blister. If the water be too cold, it may be slightly warmed, and produce the same effect. People in general are not willing to try it for a sufficiently long time. Chalk and hog’s lard simmered together are said to make a good ointment for a burn.

– Constant application of warm water is very soothing to bruised flesh, and may serve to prevent bad consequences while other things are in preparation.

– For sore nipples, put twenty grains of sugar of lead into a vial with one gill of rose-water; shake it up thoroughly; wet a piece of soft linen with this preparation, and put it on; renew this as often as the linen becomes dry. Before nursing, wash this off with something soothing; rose-water is very good; but the best thing is quince-seed warmed in a little cold tea until the liquid becomes quite glutinous. This application is alike healing and pleasant.

– A raw onion is an excellent remedy for the sting of a wasp.

– A corn may be extracted from the foot by binding on half a raw cranberry, with the cut side of the fruit upon the foot. I have known a very old and troublesome corn drawn out in this way, in the course of a few nights.

– Eat magnesia for the heart-burn.

Oh, the good old days!

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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.

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