|Location(s):||Richland, South Carolina|
|Tag(s):||New South, Medicine/Health, Pellagra|
|Course:||“Historian's Craft,” University of Alabama at Birmingham|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
Dr. C. H. Lavinder and Dr. J. W. Babcock, two of the doctors who were heading the crusade on pellagra in the American South, translated a French book, simply titled Pellagra, written by Dr. Armand Marie about the disease. Published in 1910, the book contains a history of the disease in Europe, where it was first observed, along with a list of symptoms, various treatments, and even how to prevent it. The contents of the book were as much as anyone knew about pellagra up to that time, particularly that it was positively correlated with poverty.
The book states, "Pellagra has almost invariably been found associated wretchedness and poverty, and the disease has in consequence been often regarded as an indication of the economic conditions obtained among certain classes of people in the country involved." It was clearly understood prior to 1910 that living in poverty and contracting pellagra were closely linked. It was attributed to spoiled corn and a resulting infection. Doctors, therefore, assumed that because polenta, and other corn meal products, were the basis of peasants' diets in Europe, they would prepare and eat meal, even after it spoiled. They would have to so as not to waste their food and money.
In Europe, the disease-causing poverty was a problem that needed to be dealt with, and so was claimed to have been "through motives of patriotism of for reasons of policy, or even from a sense of shame, publicists have felt urged to grapple with the problem." It continues that since it is the laboring class who is most affected pellagra greatly affects productivity in countries where it is prevalent. Dr. Lavinder and Dr. Babcock then make a startling claim that there is an "absence among us, relatively speaking, of the poverty-stricken classes among which pellagra occurs" in America. They said that there is "no such...poverty" in America.
That was a bold statement that is historically inaccurate. Michael A. Flannery explained how pellagra was known to exist in America through a report by Dr. George H. Searcy from the Mount Vernon Insane Hospital in Mobile, Alabama, where he reported eighty-eight cases of pellagra observed in 1906. Elizabeth Etheridge, too, wrote of Dr. Searcy's findings. Additionally, Etheridge explains that once Dr. Searcy named the disease and outlined the symptoms, "doctors...had their memories jogged" and they attributed many past cases to pellagra.
Pellagra obviously existed in America long before the book was published. Even taking into account that information was passed along much more slowly in the early twentieth century, the fact remains that the book was translated by Dr. Babcock and Dr. Lavinder who both knew of the outbreak prior to the book's publication. It is likely that this incorrect statement about poverty in America was made as a move to perpetuate the idea of a successful New South. Flannery expressed that the New South was being promoted to draw in industry. In essence, n order to preserve the idea of the prosperous New South, some people would twist the truth, such as "touting the benefits of modern diversified agriculture and industrial expansion" while not talking about low wages. Others, it seems, like Dr. Babcock and Dr. Lavinder, would just lie.