This file portion of website


A Solution for Everything


Written and contributed by Ben Feld


I recently inherited an old trunk full of old Watertown newspapers, some, like the Rock River Pilot, from 1847.


Most of them contained very little news of Watertown, but they made interesting reading, nevertheless.  The news about Indian uprisings in the Dakota Territory or the Black Hills read like a well-written history textbook; the items from Washington D. C. revealed more about the social life in that city than our present-day papers do.  When the president or some other dignitary gave a speech, they printed every word.  It makes me wonder how any person was able to write that fast so as to record every single word.  Do you suppose the speaker wrote out the whole speech and after reading it to his audience, gave a copy to “the newspapers” who then had copies made to be distributed to the newspaper men?  In any case, I’m sure glad we no longer have trim feathers before writing.


What fascinated me most were the solutions the papers offered for nagging problems.  In this modern time, it would be a naïve, ingenuous, and guileless, not to say somewhat witless person who would unquestionably follow their advice.  


Just like now, the women in the early 1850’s were never satisfied with the way their bodies looked.  Imagine following a regime like this which was published in one 1851 paper:



            Don’t worry.

            Don’t lay awake at night to think about your shortcomings and other people’s sins.

            Don’t care violently for any one.

                        (That may be good advice even today.)  But what about ------

            Eat meats with fat on them

            Drink milk and cream whenever you happen to want them

            Eat fruit for your breakfast; baked apples with plenty of sugar and cream

            Eat, for breakfast, oatmeal swimming in cream

            Spurn toast, eating, instead, freshly made wheat bread with butter and honey.

            Above all, do not exercise any more than is absolutely essential for health.

Take the air, yes, but let it be in a carriage, whenever you can, or on a sunny bench in the park. Violent exercise is the worst possible thing for the woman who would fain grow plump.



Those last three words help to explain the suggested diet so high in fats and sugars.  In the early 1850’s, the girls strove to be plump, as did the men, for it was an indication that they were well cared for and had a certain amount of wealth.   By the late 1800’s   that had changed greatly.


I was amused by the simple solutions the papers often offered for a vexing problem. 




Problem:  How to avoid getting malaria during.

Solution:  Stop sleeping in hammocks.


Sleeping in hammocks, the Watertown Republican pointed out in 1881, brings about a disordered state of the liver as it compels its occupant to lie in a position which keeps his body in a curve, thus compressing the liver between the diaphragm, the waistband of the trousers, and other contiguous organs.  The consequence is that the liver, squeezed and bruised, declines to perform it functions and some one of the various fevers called “malarlious” attacks the unhappy victim.


That all sounds a bit far-fetched, but the writer of the article points out that where hammocks are used, malaria exists; where hammocks are not used malaria is unknown.  And that makes sense.  Have you ever heard of an Eskimo having malaria?


But I don’t understand the writer’s suggestion that “casting our hammocks into the fire, will preserve both our health and our morals.”  Just how, do you suppose, our morals are affected by sleeping in a hammock?


If much of that sounds ridiculous to you just remember that the theory of the cause of malaria was published at the time when Charles Laverne was just discovering that malaria is not spread by hammocks or bad air, but by a germ transported by the anopheles mosquito.


But hammocks affecting our morals????  That calls for more evidence.




Problem:  Growing old and wasting away

Solution:  Since the “decay incident to old age is caused by a microbe that is inherited, the only solution is to find the substance that will kill the microbe.


Part of that solution has some merit.  Whatever causes decay in old age certainly appears to be inherited.  Every child I have ever seen gets older as time goes by just as his parents did.  But the big problem is:  what is the substance which will kill that microbe?  Maybe, before the end of the twentieth century we will have found it.  Right!   And some day we will go to the moon, too!


It is gratifying to learn that at least three prominent Watertown doctors, Dr. Moulding, Dr. Whyte, and the venerable Dr. Feld, gave any credence to the above theory. 


Some of the problems had no solutions.




Problem:  Inebriety (Alcoholism)

Solution:  None --only excuses.


Already in 1884, inebriety was being called a disease; not only a disease but a contagious disease, according to one writer in the Watertown Republican, which caused the editor to wonder if, in a meeting of good fellows which begins as a few minutes of moderate entertainment but leads to “a long soak, and ends with a big, rip-tearing carouse”, does one individual carry the disease and impart it to his fellows?”. An interesting question, to be sure.


It was his opinion that the contagiousness of inebriety is purely mental.   


At one point in the development of social problems, in 1882, a new problem developed:




Problem: Women becoming bossy.

Solution:  No one was foolish enough to offer one


But, using the coward’s way out, quoting another newspaper, the Watertown Gazette warned the readers it would get worse if the “pernicious dogma”, women suffrage is allowed to prevail.  Giving women the right to vote would be giving them the impression they carry more brains than seven Webster’s which would result in her trying to teach man his place -- “flail him alive, as it were”. 


Furthermore, the women would become “strong minded and it is generally accepted that strong-minded women are gossips or scandal-mongers, tyrants at home and would-be angels abroad.” 


He closed with the observation that “the woman man loves and worships must be free from woman suffrage whims.  Women are too tender, to pure-hearted, too grand and magnificent to be pulled down into the slums of politics.”


Similar left-handed compliments were, I noticed, very common in news items concerning women. 




Problem:  An epidemic of crime and ”jazz mad” modernism.  A malady which refused to go away after being identified first during the Roaring Twenties.

Solution:    Fit the victims with a good pair of glasses.


A Chicago doctor reported, after an extensive survey, that  “cross eyes, or eyes out of focus in any way makes the primrose path look rosey to the young man or girl” adding that optical disorders create a craving for synthetic gin  and they lead women to smoke. 


So, apparently, if a young person is near-sighted, far-sighted, or cross-eyed, a simple pair of spectacles will keep them from growing up to be an alcoholic or a smoker.  At least that doctor did not suggest any of that was contagious.   Thank goodness!




Problem:  An increase in mysterious deaths of young children.

Solution:   Ban chewing gum.


One doctor maintained that he and his colleagues knew of many cases in which a child  had died because he had swallowed chewing gum and the walls of the stomach had stuck  together causing death.


Since we no longer hear of swallowed chewing gum causing death, we can conclude the gum-makers have changed their recipes to eliminate that danger.  They deserve our commendations. 




Problem:  Facial hair on women.

Solution:  Women should cease bobbing their hair  ,


This problem arose during the Roaring Twenties after those fast flappers with their stockings rolled below their knees abandoned the “bangs” hair style, and began cutting their hair short -- “bobbing” it.  Now this so-called expert announces that, seven years after a group of women had bobbed their hair, they had 50% more facial hair than when the hair was allowed to grow long.  Why the increase?


The “expert” explained it thus:  Nature must compensate for this discouragement to hair growing on the head as happens when the ladies “bob” their hair.   Now, he predicted, a race of short-haired women will eventually become a race of bearded women.  Horrors!


We can only hope that, having heard  the warning of an expert, the ladies will now abandon  that potentially dangerous hair style.  A word to the wise!




Problem:  Diphtheria.

Solution:  Get rid of kerosene lamps. 


What a simple, easy solution to a devastating problem.  But no evidence was given to indicate how or why eliminating kerosene lamps would precipitate the cure.  The editor of the Watertown Gazette concluded that the doctor making the claim was an enemy of the Standard Oil Company which, at that time was in great legal troubles and this suggestion was designed to “get up panic and ruin that organization”.  Can you conceive of a person stooping to such a mean, vicious level?  What is this world coming to?


Added thought -- you don’t suppose that was a politician or a lawyer and no doctor who dreamed up that little peccadillo, do you?


And now, the solution for one more problem, a problem which, I predict, will be with us for many, many years as the automobile, we can clearly see, is  here to stay.




Problem:   Unaccountable speeding on the highway.

Solution:  Get rid of most of the vegetation along the roads.


Although it was, so to speak, early in the automobile era, automotive engineers, the Watertown Daily Times reported, were well aware of the problem and were attempting to solve it, or at least find the reason for its existence.  For years they had been trying to discover why automobiles, for some unaccountable reason, gather speed.  Traffic officers were reporting that drivers were adamantly insisting that they had no control over their speed at the time of being apprehended.  They often related how they were driving at a perfectly reasonable and legal speed, when the machine seemed to take on a life of its own and speeded up considerably for “some unaccountable reason”.


Finally, after many observations and much careful study, it was discovered what that unaccountable reason was.   It had to do with the trees and plants on the roadside.  They, the automotive engineers learned “where there is vegetation and smooth of the road those plants give off an abundant amount of oxygen which causes the motor to pick up speed.


That being the case, how can we be held accountable for speeding?  “It wasn’t my fault, Officer.  With all these trees and plants along the roadside, there is so much oxygen in the atmosphere that my car just takes off.  I hollered “Whoa” but it just kept going.  It wasn’t my fault!”


Do you suppose we should pass this information on to our jazz-mad teenagers?  


Maybe not.  



Twenty three, skidoo, grow a beard, and so’s your old man!