Tomorrow, June 2nd, will mark sixty-seven years since a young Princess was crowned Queen in London, England, in 1953. Elizabeth II was following in the path of her illustrious ancestors.
Exactly 462 years earlier in 1491, one of her ancestors, King Henry VIII, known primarily for the number of wives he had, was born that month.
June is usually associated with weddings and brides and Henry VIII certainly had his share of both but, during the past two hundred years, a number of notable people have also been born or died on June 2nd. Here are just a few:
A number of interesting events have also happened through the years on June 2, including the beginning of the P.T. Barnum Circus tour through the United States in 1835.
In 1886 President Grover Cleveland was the first president to marry during his presidency when he wed Frances Folsom on June 2 that year.
In 1924, U.S. Citizenship was granted to all First Nations people on June 2, and forty years later in 1964 the Rolling Stones made their first United States tour starting in Lynn, Massachusetts.
A member of the Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman, was married on this date to Mandy Smith in 1989. On that same day, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, a hunger strike began by students demonstrating for democracy. When over 100,000 citizens tried to protect the students from the Chinese soldiers marching on the Square, a massacre resulted two days later on June 4th.
In the Bahamas when June 2 falls on a Friday it is called labor day, and is celebrated in New Zealand as the Queen’s birthday when it falls on a Monday. In Western Australia it is known as Foundation Day, also celebrated when it occurs on a Monday.
In England, the Trooping of the Color is held that day to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday—although her actual birth date is in April. This year the Trooping of the Color has been cancelled for the first time in history because of COVID 19.
In religious history, James A. Healy was consecrated bishop over the Diocese of Maine, on June 2 1875, which made him the first African-American bishop in the history of the American Catholic Church.
So, on June 2 1953, when a future Queen was crowned in England, it was also a date when many other important events, births and deaths have occurred throughout time around the world.
And this year there won't be as many June brides as usual able to celebrate large nuptials.
Like me, do you find it interesting to ponder on dates in history? Just something else I've been doing during lock down!
Leave a comment below as to what you've been doing to pass the time while social distancing.
Lately I have been pondering on the passing of time and in particular on certain dates throughout history—like May 24th for instance—a Queen’s birthday anniversary celebrated every year on the Monday preceding May 24th. This year in my hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, the holiday will fall on Monday, May 18th.
It is usually a weekend of celebrations ranging from a parade in town and boat races and festivals along the Gorge waterway. Sadly this year it will all look a little different because of Covid-19. And for the first time there will be no parade.
According to historical weather records, May 24th 1819 in England when Victoria was born, was a cloudy day with an east wind blowing. It was also the fourth wettest day of the month. But, in Kensington Palace in London, a future Queen of England came into the world and would later give her name to our city in British Columbia, Canada. During her long reign, however, she never visited the city named for her.
The Queen’s May birthday has been celebrated since the establishment of Fort Victoria in 1843. One of the first major celebrations was in 1853 with horse racing taking place in Beacon Hill Park, a pleasant distraction for the early settlers which continued for many years. More sporting events were added as time went by including cricket.
Many of those early “Queen celebrations” centered around the Gorge waterway though, which soon became known for its boating regattas and picnics for the elite who lived along the Gorge. The citizens of Victoria were said to have enjoyed “lively times up the Gorge Arm” for many a year. Some of the more prominent Victoria families such as the Grants, the O'Reillys, the Drakes, the Dunsmuirs and the Fawcetts had built elegant homes along the banks of the waterway.
The O'Reilly house Point Ellice House, still stands today. It is a relatively unknown gem in the city, and is open to the public. In my forthcoming novel Providence, I have placed the home of my own fictional family, the McBrides, along the Gorge waterway.
Sadly one of the May 24th celebrations ended in tragedy. In 1896 a happy crowd of holiday-makers crossing the Point Ellice bridge on Streetcar Number 16, plunged to their deaths when the bridge collapsed. The people who perished on that day left an incredible void in the lives of many of Victoria’s families. A similar tragedy today would be comparable to the city losing over a thousand of her citizens at one time.
The annual May 24th holiday was originally known as Empire Day but around the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, Empire Day was merged with the Queen’s birthday and, in 1904, was officially set aside as a special day. By legislation in 1952, Victoria Day, was celebrated every year on the first Monday preceding May 24th. Parades, fireworks, festivals, marching bands all followed by the Swiftsure boat races have added to the fun through the years - until 2020 when we will simply have to celebrate in different ways.
Throughout her long reign, Queen Victoria also gave her name to many other places around the world and within the then British Empire such as a state in Australia, the British Cameroons in Africa, a town in Texas, and our own city in British Columbia. In addition, an Island in the Arctic, and Falls in Southern Rhodesia, Argentina, and Brazil are named for the Queen.
It bears remembering that Queen Victoria’s reign, described in the newspapers of the day as “the longest and greatest reign in the history of the British Empire,” had seen the rise of an industrial revolution, progress of railroads, the introduction of the automobile, and the development of a democratic system of rule.
She was a Queen who depicted goodness, duty, conscience and solid virtue, and had resurrected a belief in a strong work ethic and a morality, at least on the surface, second to none.
Today, we may well have long-since forgotten whose birthday we were originally celebrating on the May 24th weekend or what this particular holiday once stood for. To many people, it is now simply the first holiday week-end of the year and a pleasant way to head into summer where, this year, we hope to gradually celebrate socializing with family and friends once again.
How will you spend this long weekend? Hopefully you will stay inside or go out safely by staying six feet apart from others.
In this very strange world of self isolation, social distancing and not being able to travel, I doubt any of us are giving much thought to a man who was so passionate about automobiles and travel in the early years of the 20th century that he decided to make a big difference in the world.
His name was Albert (Bert) Edward Todd and he instigated both the building of the Trans Canada Highway and the Pacific Highway from Seattle south. His story is quite a remarkable one.
He was born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in 1878 into a family of high achievers. His father, Jacob Hunter Todd, was a politician and salmon-canning magnate; his older brother Jack a world-renowned bacteriologist; his step-brother, Charlie, a powerful industrialist; and his two sisters were women far ahead of their time.
Bert, however, went in a different direction. He began to study automobile development around the world, observing European experiments made by Karl Benz as well as the works of Haynes, Ford, and Buick in America.
After travelling through Europe as a young man, trying to decide what he wanted to do with his life, he returned to Victoria and in May of 1903 purchased a two-seater model car for $1,800 from Bagster Roads Seabrook, (a car dealer, inventor, and author of Mathematical Tables for Businesses and Trades.) The car was manufactured by the White Sewing Machine Company.
As Bert drove his new car from Victoria out to Shawnigan Lake (a short distance away), he had an incredible vision of the future. He logged and timed his “adventure” that day – two hours and 53 minutes on the outward journey and a mere one hour and 34 minutes on the return trip. Obviously some motoring skills had been gained along the way.
The trip was made without insurance, driver’s licence, registration, licence plates, windshield or fenders (none of which was mandatory at the time.) The following year the government introduced an annual licencing fee of $2 and Bert then became the owner of Licence Number 13 in British Columbia.
But on that day in 1903, history had been made. Bert Todd became obsessed with promoting tourism and better road conditions throughout the entire Pacific Northwest.
In 1910, Bert married Ada Seabrook (the daughter of the car dealer) and for their honeymoon he purchased a 30-horse power General Motors Cadillac to carry him and his bride on a five thousand mile journey south to Mexico and north again along the Pacific coast back to Vancouver Island, a path-finding journey which became the forerunner of all Pacific Highway travel as we know it today. The Todds’ honeymoon trip is in fact a matter of official record in the Royal BC Archives in Victoria and in 1912 was the inspiration behind the building of the Pacific Highway.
Bert’s notes and observations on that trip also helped establish Victoria as a center for tourism in later years. He designed the original map and worked out the exact route the Highway should take. Many of his comments make fascinating reading today:
“....Leaving Los Angeles in the car....we followed the rough and muddy coast road to San Diego; there had been several wash-outs a few days before....”
“...from San Francisco we came north to Oregon by way of Stockton and the Sacramento Valley. While the roads in Southern California were often bad, these in the north of the state proved worse, especially when we tackled the stretch between Redding and Dunsmuir. Our troubles in this direction increased the further north we came and a very heavy strain was put on the car climbing the grades over the Siskiyou mountains in the southern part of Oregon. This road is a toll road and we were assessed $1.50 for the privilege of bumping over its ruts and plunging into its mud-holes.”
America had already realized that the age of the automobile had arrived, and Todd intended that British Columbia should feel the same way. After all, he once commented, “I saw no place on the whole trip that compared with Victoria as an automobiling center.”
Todd later became Vice-President of the International Pacific Highway Association and was the originator of the International Pacific Northwest Tourist Association. He was also Vice-President of the Trans Canadian Highway Association and easily earned the title “Father of Tourism in British Columbia” and “Good Roads Todd.”
In 1914 Burt turned his attention to the construction of the Snoqualmie Highway, and in 1915 began to organize a motor route known as “the Georgian Circuit” to embrace the cities of Seattle, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Victoria, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Olympia, Tacoma and back to Seattle, a distance of 500 miles. This Circuit was officially opened in Port Angeles in August of 1915, witnessed by over a thousand people.
Todd’s relentless work in road improvement as well as in civic affairs as a Victoria alderman, mayor, and police commissioner, inevitably took a toll on his health. After a lengthy illness, he died in October 1928 in Seattle at the age of 50.
Towards the end of his life, Judge James T. Ronald of the Superior Court of the State of Washington sent Todd a letter in which he praised his dedication, specifically referring to his involvement in the construction of the Pacific Highway by saying;
“.......When one thinks of the great benefit that highway now is to the Pacific Coast, and the great influence its organization had upon highway improvements generally, one familiar with the conditions, must realize what A.E. Todd, a Canadian, has meant to the Pacific Coast of the United States of America.....”
Until his death, Todd continued to believe in the future of the automobile. He saw it as something more than just a frivolous toy for the rich and privileged. He wanted it to become a large part of everyone’s life and he strove to make the automobile easily accessible to the masses so that eventually it would shape the economy, geography, and social aspects of our society.
Today his name can rightfully stand alongside all those who promoted the automobile and early highway construction throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Give a thought to this incredible man of vision when next we are free again to travel those important highways. Let's hope it is soon!
The word PANDEMIC sends shivers down everyone's spine so I've started today's blog with an adorable picture of little girls in pink carrying on with their ballet lessons during frightening times such as the SARS epidemic in the early 2000's.
There have certainly been many plagues, epidemics and pandemics around the world during the past 2,000 years. Here are just a few I discovered and researched:
These are indeed frightening statistics! But remember, if you are here today all
your ancestors survived those epidemics and pandemics.
My own home town of Victoria, British Columbia, suffered a major epidemic of smallpox in the year 1862 in which First Nations people perished in large numbers with 60 to 70% death rates.
It happened this way. In the spring of 1862 smallpox was already prevalent in San Francisco and because there was a great deal of shipping activity between Victoria and San Francisco, it was only a matter of time before it spread north. On March 18 the Daily British Colonist reported the first case in Victoria and by the 26th there were two new cases, one having arrived aboard the Oregon and the other on the Brother Jonathan, both from San Francisco.
Smallpox was—and still is despite modern medical science and no active cases for over twenty years—a dreaded and horrible disease. The 1862 epidemic was an especially virulent form of the disease and there was widespread panic among the white population.
First Nations people who suffered the most were already living in various encampments (reserves) in the vicinity of the Fort—on the Songhees Reserve, on a James Bay beach and at Ogden Point near the entrance to the harbor.
Governor James Douglas had three available options to him in order to help the citizens of Victoria.
1. Vaccination or Inoculation. 2. Isolation or 3. Expulsion.
For the First Nations people he chose isolation and eventually expulsion to northern parts of the province—which solved nothing and simply spread the disease. He also quarantined ships.
SO, even in 1862, it would appear that the best way to stop the disease was a form of social distancing—but staying in place!
The protagonist in my forthcoming novel Providence, arrives in Victoria in September of 1862 and a month later has an unpleasant encounter with some First Nations smallpox sufferers on the Songhees reserve. There were still few safety precautions in place to counteract the virulent disease.
All these statistics are definitely alarming and always provoke fear and panic. However, we must remember that this latest pandemic is nothing new and will be eradicated—if we follow the protocol.
And, hard as it may seem to believe right now, there are also a few good things coming out of this current pandemic. In social isolation we are discovering new skills and re-discovering old ones. We are communicating in new ways. People are showing love and care to seniors, their neighbors and their work colleagues. We have numerous heroes—doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes, workers in grocery stores and pharmacies—and the list goes on. The depth of the human spirit around the world is becoming prevalent once again.
And while we are “flattening the curve” by driving our cars and flying in 'planes less as well as not congregating anywhere in large numbers, we may also be solving another world crisis—global warming. Who knows?
What do you think?
Do you enjoy inspirational quotes as much as I do?
Do you love the words of people such as Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa or Winston Churchill? Their inspirational words have often had the power to help me stay strong in times of stress and trouble.
But what about the words of the ordinary people in our own lives? I still remember many words spoken by people during my life which left a lasting impression on me for many years. I still recall many of them today.
For instance, many moons ago when I was a five year-old kindergarten child, I recall being very upset because I was the smallest in the class. All the others were much taller. One day my teacher (whose name incidentally was Miss Trott - yes, really!) took me aside and told me not to be sad. She explained that "all the best things in life come wrapped up in small packages." Those words helped me so much until I grew taller.
These next words which I heard from our headmistress in high school made an indelible impression on me. She was a terrifying woman at the best of times but whenever she taught as Religious Instruction she would begin with the words; "Never, under any circumstances, abbreviate the word "Christmas" to "Xmas." "x", she said "is the unknown quantity and Christ is certainly not unknown." Even to this day I have never written the word "Xmas" for fear of that frightening woman coming up behind me on the attack!
I was blessed to have two parents who always encouraged me to be the best I could be. My mother was a cock-eyed optimist whose favorite expressions were "always think positively"; "the best is yet to come" and, whenever I was feeling down, "remember this too will pass."
My dad was also my inspirational hero. He encouraged me whenever I faced rejection by telling me "it's all for the best, so pull yourself up by your boot strings and start all over. You will get there eventually. When one door shuts, another always opens." He was usually right.
When I studied writing at college, teachers often advised me to "only write about what I knew best." Another important message to a future history writer such as me was "research, research and yet more research."
In fact, one of my hometown's well-known archival historians once gave me some really good advice. "If you are writing about people in the 1800s, forget everything you know about today's world and cast yourself back into theirs. Only then will you get it right." All words to live by indeed.
Do you have words that have made a lasting impression on you? I'd love to hear yours in the comments below.
February 14 is the day when thousands of people around the world will receive sentimental or humorous greetings cards from sweethearts, friends, or family members. I thought it might be fun to take a step back in time and examine the history of this unique giving-of-cards tradition.
But first the story of St. Valentine himself -
It is believed there was a man named Valentine, a Roman martyr, who refused to give up his belief in Christianity. He was, therefore, imprisoned and put to death on February 14 269 AD. He left behind a farewell note to his jailer’s daughter who had befriended him and brought him food while in jail and signed his note “From Your Valentine.” This might well have been the very first Valentine Day card.
The giving of a Valentine also comes from the Middle Ages when lovers sang or recited their valentine verses to a beloved, and the oldest Valentine message still in existence was made in the 1400's. Today it is on display at the British Museum.
Early Valentines in Europe were made of colored paper and were very popular in England where wooing one’s beloved with a valentine message was especially favored. Cards then were mostly hand-made and came in various types and designs.
There were, for instance, Acrostic Valentines where the first lines spelled out the loved one’s name. There were also Cutout Valentines which were made by folding the paper many times and then cutting out a lace-like design with small, pointed scissors.
An unusual design originating in the Orient was called the Theorem or Poonah Valentine. These were painted through a stencil cut out in oil paper. And a Rebus Valentine had verses inside where small pictures took the place of some of the words. Pinprick Valentines were made, as the name implies, by pricking small holes in paper with a pin or needle, creating the impression of lace.
Fraktur Valentines were popular in the Middle Ages because they were composed of ornamental lettering which was in the same style as the illuminated manuscripts of those times. And one's beloved always enjoyed receiving a Puzzle Purse Valentine, a folded puzzle which could be read and then refolded. Each fold contained a verse and the verses had to be read in a certain order.
By the early 1800s, Valentines were being made in factories, and much of the charm of the hand-made Valentine had disappeared. The earliest manufactured Valentines were made on black paper with white pictures painted on them by the factory workers. The more fancy Valentine cards were made with real lace and ribbons with paper lace being introduced about the mid-1800s. By the end of the 19th century, Valentines were being produced entirely by machinery.
Soon after the beginning of the 20th century a card company named Norcross began to manufacture the Valentine card. Then Hallmark got in on the act. The rest, as they say, is history.
Crown Center in Kansas City is today the international headquarters of Hallmark Cards Inc, the vision of Joyce C. and Donald J. Hall. The building of Crown Center reversed years of decay in that area which was just blocks away from Kansas City’s commercial district. The Halls managed to halt the decay and revitalize the inner city.
Since 1968, about half of the original 85 acres have been developed and today the Crown Center complex houses hotels, meeting rooms, restaurants, theaters, and of course the headquarters of Hallmark Cards Inc. The creation of an international institution based on caring gives rise to the Hallmark philosophy of “when you care enough.....”
Each year, Hallmark displays collections of rare and antique Valentine cards at their card shops across North America, and many museums and libraries also offer antique valentine exhibitions around St. Valentine’s Day.
Love makes the world go round, and as long as that is true, the Valentine Card will forever flourish.
Do you still send Valentine cards? Let me know in a comment below.
Near where I live on Vancouver Island in Canada, there is a First Nations legend which has been told many times. But its message of goodwill is still applicable in today's world. It goes like this.
One Christmas Eve soon after the establishment of Fort Victoria in the 1840s, a large bird appeared in the western sky. It swooped down over a native Indian village on the outskirts of the old Fort, roughly where the Parliament Buildings stand today in the inner harbor. The great black bird headed straight for a small baby sleeping in its papoose basket, picked up the infant in its beak and soared off into the sky.
The baby's mother was grief-stricken and frantically called for help among her tribe members as she ran to and fro in a distraught state. She soon managed to rally assistance, not only from her own tribe but from others who saw her despair. Fur traders, Hudson's Bay Company men and nearby settlers all rallied to help her. A large party of people then set off in the direction the bird had taken, continuing the search far into the night, carrying flaming torches to light their way. Men of all colors and creeds banded together to walk through the dense forest surrounding the Fort in order to help the woman find her child.
Early on Christmas morning, the missing child was discovered. He had been placed on the summit of a small hill a few miles from the Fort and had been covered in leaves to keep him warm. He smiled up at his mother as though trying to reassure her that he was quite unharmed, despite his adventure.
It was said that from that night on the small hill became known as Christmas Hill and this is confirmed by mention of it on some of the very earliest surveyors' maps of the area. Unfortunately the legend was forgotten over time and even the name of the hill was changed to "Lake Hill."
In 1937, however, a family built a house on the summit of the hill and decided to resurrect the legend by calling their home "Christmas Hill."
The hill is fifty feet lower than nearby Mount Tolmie and less than half the height of Mount Douglas to the north. From the summit you can look down on Swan Lake to the south and on Lost Lake in the opposite direction. Despite being so close to the city, this rocky little hill soon became an area of rural beauty and a nature lover's haven for botanists and bird lovers.
If legends are to be believed though, it was another bird, raven-like in appearance, that had once stolen a child away from its mother and then carried it with gentle care to place it where it would easily be found. But what was the purpose of this act?
Perhaps it had simply been to teach mankind the importance of working together in times of need towards an ultimate goal, regardless of color, creed or race.
It was an important message delivered those many years ago in the mythical form of a legend, but a message that is still important today. In times of trouble, sometimes against all odds, the incredible power of the human spirit for caring, always manages to come to the fore - if we all stand together.
At this time of miracles, I wish all my book readers and blog followers a very happy Christmas and may the New Year be kind to each and every one of you.
What is it about gold that has fascinated man throughout time?
Mark Twain once said, “Genius, like gold and precious stones, is chiefly prized because of its rarity.” He might well have been right.
But the lure of gold is as contagious as any other fever, even though only a few have ever struck it rich. Most have only experienced hardship and heartbreak.
Around the world, the largest gold strikes have been in Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Russia, and the United States. The one in Australia in New South Wales began in 1851 and continued for the next 50 years.
Hard to believe but gold rushes were happening as far back as the days of the Roman Empire and Ancient Egypt. By the 18th and 19th century, they helped spur immigration, leading to permanent settlement of new regions.
On the North American continent, gold fever ran rampant after James W. Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator, found gold on Sutter’s Creek on January 24, 1848. This discovery set off the California Gold Rush. But invariably any gold rush has a relatively short life span, and when it begins to draw to a close, prospectors seek more adventure and gold prospects elsewhere.
Once the California Gold Rush petered out and an economic depression set in, many people began to head north, having heard of gold strikes in what was then New Caledonia (now British Canada) in Canada. In 1858, steamers full of miners eager to “strike it rich” headed north to Victoria, a small English village of less than 500 people. Overnight, the “village” transformed into a tent city of over 30,000 people, among them 4,000 Chinese.
The miners headed to the Fraser River where the first major gold find was at Hill’s Bar, south of Fort Yale. Some made small fortunes while others merely suffered from mosquito bites! The Fraser Valley was notorious for them.
The next major gold rush in British Columbia was in the Cariboo in 1861, which lasted until 1867. Between 1859 and 1869 there were also many minor gold rushes in places such as Similkameen, Peace River, Shuswap and Omineca, but the next major gold rush happened between 1896 and 1899 in the Klondike, labelled one of the last “great gold rushes” in Canada.
Here are some fun facts about gold mining and the eternal lure of the yellow metal:
Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he also said, “If everyone else is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”
The hero in my forthcoming historical saga Providence soon finds this to be true. The ones who made a fortune in gold rushes were usually the ones, like him, who let others chase the golden rainbow while they were simply content to sell them the tools, supplies and transport to get to the goldfields!
If you had lived in those times, would you have ventured to the goldfields? Were those who did incredibly brave or incredibly foolish?
Let me know what you think in a comment below.
On January 5, 1907, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London, England.
At the time, King Edward VII was reported to have said, “After my mother [Queen Victoria], she was the most remarkable woman in the kingdom.”
The baroness was born Angela Georgina Burdett, daughter of Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Coutts, who was the daughter of wealthy banker Thomas Coutts, founder of Coutts & Company.
In 1837, at the age of 23, Angela inherited her grandfather’s fortune of nearly two million pounds. She could easily have spent the rest of her life living in luxury, enjoying the pleasures and extravagances of the very rich. Instead, she chose to devote her life to helping others and spreading her fortune where it was needed the most.
Having befriended many notable people, such as Louisa Twining, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Dickens, and learning of the plight of orphans and the very poor in London, Angela used much of her wealth to help those causes.
She also became a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building and endowing churches and church schools around the word—in Africa, in Australia and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Her contributions to Victoria included donating money to help build Angela College on Burdett Street, a prestigious Anglican school for young women. Both the building and the street honor this woman today, even though, like Queen Victoria, she never visited the city.
In addition she donated money for the church bells in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, for cotton gins in Nigeria, and for drinking fountains for dogs in large cities. She assisted Turkish peasants and refugees of the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, organized housing schemes for the working class as well as giving money for the Ragged Schools Union, soup kitchens, and the Temperance Society in London. She also helped place hundreds of destitute boys on training ships for the navy and merchant service.
Speaking of ships, at Angela's instigation, vessels were sent out to British Columbia (the most notable in 1862 being the Tynemouth, known as the Bride Ship), which carried 60 women to the colony, where there was a great shortage of women at that time.
In 1871, Queen Victoria bestowed a peerage on Angela with the title of Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate, and the following year, she became the first woman to be presented with the Freedom of the City of London. She also received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1874.
Although she had many suitors throughout her life, she refused all offers of marriage until she was 67 years old, when she shocked society by marrying her secretary, a young man of 30, William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett, who was also a member of Parliament. In an unprecedented move, he changed his name to Burdett-Coutts after the marriage.
By the time Angela Burdett-Coutts died in December 1906 at the age of 92, she had given well over three million pounds to needy causes around the world.
The benevolent baroness makes a brief appearance in my forthcoming novel, Providence, as a motivator for my main character to set out from England for the new world on the SS Tynemouth.
For most married women in the 19th century, being pregnant was a frequent occurrence. They believed it was their duty to produce many children, so consequently, Victorian families were very large. Without benefit of any kind of birth control, babies “just came”—year after year.
In addition to being in a constant state of expectancy, childbirth itself was both painful and dangerous. Pain relief was minimal—maybe some opium or laudanum—but according to their religious beliefs, it was assumed that women were supposed to suffer in child birth.
Babies were always born at home. The mother was helped by family or female friends and sometimes an inexperienced midwife. Midwifery did not come into its own until much later. Doctors were only called at the last moment when it was feared the mother might die. If instruments were used for delivery, they were not sterilized.
Doctors were seldom trained in obstetrics. They didn't wash their hands—an obvious cause of infection, so when babies were not in the correct position and had to be turned either by hand or instrument, the mother experienced not only excessive pain but also bleeding and infection.
Infection and heavy bleeding were in fact the main causes of death for both mother and baby. Hardly any wonder that women approached childbirth (often described as “a woman’s time of trial”) with great fear. Nonetheless, it was deemed to be a normal course of events, and little thought was given to birth control until much later.
It was also believed that women were “unclean” after childbirth, so they were given the sacrament at the communion rail but only after post-childbirth bleeding had ended and women had been “churched.” The 1789 Book of Common Prayer celebrates women who survived childbirth in The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women.”
From the 1870s onward, a transition in fertility control was finally happening. With still no significant birth control in place, families were simply modifying their sexual activity, but by 1900, the size of families had certainly decreased to around four children, approximately half the number 20 or 30 years before. Numbers continued to fall in the first few decades of the 20th century.
In addition, pain relief in childbirth began to increase slowly toward the end of the century. Queen Victoria herself pioneered the use of chloroform for her eighth confinement in 1854, though its use was still opposed by many doctors.
Eventually a belief grew that many women’s lives could be saved if babies were delivered under more stringent medical conditions in hospitals, but this did not fully happen until the 1940s when it became more common for babies to be born in hospitals rather than at home.
Here are some additional facts about childbirth throughout the years:
In today’s world, women have many more childbirth options, including deliveries at hospitals or at home, and second vaginal births after a C-section, gentle "C-section,” and epidural births.
Thank goodness childbirth has come a long way since the 19th century!
Ladies, do you have a delivery experience that was out of the ordinary? Let me know in a comment below.