Selena Severson on the hazards of secondhand smoke

uncle-sam-put-out-cigaretteA full 90 years before U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop published his 1986 report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking, and 110 years before U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona released his 2006 follow-up report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, Selena Severson published an article alerting doctors to the dangers of exposing children and teens to secondhand smoke.

In her 1896 paper, Effects of Cigarette Smoke Upon Children and Youth, Selena Severson details the physiological effects of tobacco smoke on numerous systems. She not only urges doctors not to subject their young patients to tobacco smoke, but implies that all people, young and old—doctors included—should give up smoking.

In the discussion of her article (pages 348 to 350), it is amusing to see two of the four doctors (Dr. Tanner and Dr. Caldwell) defend their habit of smoking in general (Dr. Tanner) and while seeing patients (Dr. Caldwell).

It is interesting as well to note that Selena’s argument was made decades before the link between tobacco and cancer was established. Her argument is based on tobacco smoke’s effect of producing functional disturbances in major organs and systems, and the deleterious effect that responding to these disturbances has on still-growing individuals.

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Selena Severson’s autograph book

Front cover of albumSelena Severson was born in September, 1862, the fourth of five daughters of Sever and Martha Severson. She was only two years old when her father died of dysentery while serving in the Union Army in the Civil War. Despite this devastating setback, the Severson sisters grew up to be strong, successful women.

Selena grew up with her family in Black Earth, Wisconsin, and in 1880, at the age of 18, enrolled in the Wisconsin State College at Whitewater (now the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater), a rural, four-year, co-educational, residential college founded in 1868 as the Whitewater Normal School. While at Whitewater, she earned her teaching certification and then returned to Black Earth to teach for two years.

After teaching in Black Earth, she returned to Whitewater to finish her degree, graduating in the class of 1887. After graduation, she taught for a year in Berthoud, Colorado, then for one year in Fort Collins, Colorado, and then for two years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Around 1891, Selena enrolled in a medical college for women in Chicago (presumably the Woman’s Hospital Medical College, which changed its name to the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School in 1891/1892). She was entered in Illinois’ Official Register of Legally Qualified Physicians in 1895. She practiced medicine in Chicago for a time, and then relocated to Madison, Wisconsin, to be near her family once more.

In this post, I’d like to share with you Selena Severson’s 1878 autograph book, which I just finished digitizing today. Transcriptions and analysis of this book will be provided in a future post. Charlie and Nancy Frey generously allowed me to borrow and digitize this book along with Sever Severson’s diary.

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Sever Severson’s craftsmanship

Severson CradleI like to think I’ve got pretty darned good internet search skills, but I have nothing on my wife. She’s got the magic touch. As evidence of that, I’d like to share with you a discovery that she made earlier tonight—a child’s cradle made by Sever Severson himself, perhaps for his own children or for a niece or a nephew.

Sever and his wife Martha had five children together—all girls. Their oldest daughter, Anne Mary, was born around 1856, Julia was born around 1858, Ellen Caroline (“Carrie”) was born in 1859, Selina was born in 1862, and their youngest, Cecila M (“Celia”) was born six weeks after her father died of dysentery in Atlanta, Georgia, while serving as a Union soldier in the Civil War. If the 1855 date for the cradle (written on the back of a photo of the cradle from 1920) is correct, then he almost certainly made this for his own children. If the 1846 date on the headboard is correct, perhaps he made this for the children of an older brother or sister, as it would date to 10 years before his first child was born.

My wife found this little gem on the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. The information displayed there was provided by the institution charged with preserving and caring for the cradle, the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society.  Here are some extracts of what they have to say about the cradle:

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Draft transcription of Sever’s 1864 diary

Sever Severson kept a diary in 1864, writing in it every day from January 1 until September 26, four days before he succumbed to dysentery. He remarks almost daily on the weather and the productivity of his wagonmaking business, and also comments on his travels, local elections, visits to friends and family, his sales, his purchases, and the amount of cash he had on hand.

Sever’s spelling is variable and phonetic, as was common through the middle of the 19th century in the U.S. For instance, instead of “stayed”, he will sometimes write “Stad” while at other times writing “Stayd”, “Staed” or “sted”. Sever also only infrequently used punctuation, leading to confusion in a few cases. To help better understand his diary, I have provided edited versions of his entries.

Although Sever wrote his diary entries in English, his Norwegian education is evidenced in a couple of ways. He commonly slips into the Germanic convention of capitalizing nouns, common in Norwegian orthography until the 1907 reform of the language. He also occasionally slips into Norwegian; for example, on July 10 he writes “at Meeting in John Fjelds Kirke Church” (“kirke” is Norwegian for “church”). In other ways, however, he seems to be pushing himself to break with Norwegian; for example, rather than using the word “begin” (the cognate of the Norwegian “begynne”), he opts to use the word “commence.”

There are many entries along the lines of “L 1 day H 1 day A ½ day”. Sever employed several men to work for him in his shops and on other projects, and it appears these notations were his way of recording the time each man worked on that day for purposes of payroll.

What follows is a first draft of a full transcription. Please let me know of any mistakes you find, or if you can interpret words that I have not been able to understand. Red type face indicates words and names I have not yet been able to decipher. Green type face indicates transcribed words or names for which I do not have full confidence.

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Sever Severson’s 1864 diary, part 1

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As I mentioned in previous posts, my newly discovered cousin Anne dropped a bombshell on me about six weeks ago when she mentioned that Sever Severson kept a diary in 1864, the year he died while serving the Union Army in the Civil War. She had a faint photocopy of it that her mother had made, and she recalled that it had been passed down to another branch of the family. She tracked down these cousins and found they still had the diary. One of these cousins, Charlie, lives only two and a half hours away, and Nancy lives in Spain, but just so happened to be visiting over the last two weeks (the curious coincidences of this encounter could fill a post on their own).

A little over a week ago, I drove out to the Sierra foothills to meet Nancy and her father Charlie.  Nancy and her father are also descendants of Sever Severson, and they’re also passionate about family history. Nancy and Charlie are descended from Celia Severson, the sister of my great-great-grandmother, Carrie Severson (making Nancy and I third cousins, one removed, and Charlie and I second cousins, twice removed). After a talking for a while, Nancy took me upstairs to where their family history files are kept and showed me the diary.

It was smaller than I imagined (4.9 x 3.25 inches; slightly larger than an iPhone), and in much better shape than I expected it to be. Nancy and I both put on our cotton gloves to look through the diary, and I couldn’t help thinking that Sever would be happy to see the grandchildren of his grandchildren (or, in my case, the great-grandchild of his granddaughter) being brought together after all these generations by the diary he wrote 149 years ago.

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In memoriam: Beulah (Askew) Montgomery (1920-2013)

Beulah Lucille AskewI received word this morning that my great-aunt, Beulah Lucille (Askew) Montgomery (“Bonnie” to friends, and “Boo” to family), died peacefully in her sleep last night. I only knew her from a distance, but from where I stood, she was a remarkable woman who led a remarkable life.

She was the oldest of the three Askew sisters, born and raised in Wadena, Minnesota. She married Lawrence R. “Monty” Montgomery in 1942, and she was the first of the Askew children to give her parents a grandchild. She and Monty raised two boys—Bob and Rich—and led exemplary lives distinguished by their hard work, generosity, charity, activity, creativity, and humility.

In this post, I’d like to share with you some photos of Boo taken throughout her life. Please share your memories of Boo by leaving a comment at the end of this post.

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Will the real Sever Severson please stand up?

Locating an ancestor’s Civil War military service records can sometimes be difficult, but it is by no means an impossible task. If your ancestor served in the Union army, if he had a distinctive name, if you know where he lived, when he served, and you’ve found at least one mention of the unit (company and regiment) that he served in, it can actually be an easy, straight-forward task. Even if you have only some of this information, you can often still find your ancestor thanks to a number of tremendously useful indexes that are available in printed form or online.

If, on the other hand, your ancestor had a common (and commonly misspelled) name, if you’re unsure of when and where he served, if all available military documents strangely omit reference to his company and regiment, and if he seems to be missing from all relevant indexes, it sure starts to feel like it might be impossible.

In today’s post, I’ll share my experiences trying to find my ancestor’s elusive Civil War service record. I have a record that he was drafted in June, 1863, and he’s included in a list of the men going to war in September, 1863. I also have strong evidence that he died in a Union hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 30, 1864, that he was buried in a military cemetery that same day, and that he was exhumed and reinterred with a military headstone in Marietta National Cemetery. Yet between September, 1863, and September, 1864, if the consulted sources are to be believed, there is no record of his military service. I’ll see what I can do about that.

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