Fremont County, Iowa

"Early Health Care Issues-Part Two"
The War against Germs

by Nadine Elwers

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of May 2, 2011

There was great emphasis on prevention of disease, a common sense strategy, when medical expertise was not close at hand. Scrupulous cleanliness was the best defense against germs, and I remember the ritual when my grandmother made her own lye soap. Boundaries were identified in the yard area where she worked. Children were not allowed within the lines.

Also on washday, it was common for clothes and bedding to be in boiling water over an outdoor fire in a huge tub when there had been colds and worse. The ironing process (unknown today) further sterilized fabrics. When I remember how much physical labor was involved, beginning with hand pumping water from the well, then heating it before scrubbing and laundering, I am in awe of that war repeatedly waged against dirt and disease.

I am told that my great grandmother Ella Boldra, who successfully raised fifteen children to adulthood, was a martinet about cleanliness in her household. She said "Soap and water do not cost that much money. There is no excuse for not being clean."

During my attendance at Sunnyside School, we all had Lifebuoy charts. We had to record all of our healthy grooming rituals and they hung on the walls surrounding the entranceway corner where our water container sat on a shelf. A dipper for the water was only used to pour into our individual cups with our names on. No sharing of drinking cups! No sharing of combs! There were no Kleenex yet, so students always had handkerchiefs in pockets, spares in our desks, and the teacher had a back up supply for when the runny noses were winning the race.

In winter when the bedrooms were not heated, my mother maintained her regular cleaning schedule. She put on all of the warm clothing items she wore when she went outdoors - hat, coat, scarves, gloves - and she attacked the dust and germs in that room with the same thoroughness and vigor on a year-round basis. Sometimes the cold was so bitter she would have to return to warmth and thaw out, then return for completion of the task. We took warmed blankets and hot water bottles to bed with us - and wasted no time snuggling into those clean sheets. It was good to share with a sister. In the morning, we could often see our breath in the room. It was hard to leave that warm burrow in the bedding, but time to get up and get off to Sunnyside School!

Return to View From the Attic Page

Return to Fremont County Home

Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau