Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I decided several days ago to save blogging for the end of the day with the idea that I would have more time to compose my thoughts, thereby offering you pearls of wisdom from the ocean rather than the fresh water variety. Well, the best laid plans blah blah blah!  By the time the last dog leaves (sometime between 6-7:30 pm), the dinner is cooked/served/disposed of, and the child is picked up from the sport practice du jour, I can't even remember my own name, let alone express my reflections on the day in any eloquent or interesting way!  So, here we are at 6:45 a.m. again.  The dogs will be here soon and it is a nice day, so I have big plans for the swimming pools.  Thus far we have only pulled one of them from the basement.  The weather being rather iffy lately, only the true pool whores (yes, that's an industry term!) have been interested in the water. However, with several days in a row in the mid 70's, the more cautious members of the pack are beginning to dip in a toe or two.

If you are reading these blogs regularly, you already know that our research team at UB has been invited to contribute a chapter to an edited volume on anatomy and dissection in the nineteenth century.  I spent my break yesterday trying to get started on this chapter.  After reviewing the book proposal and chapter outline I realized that I know absolutely nothing about Structural Violence theory, which is a problem because our chapter is framed within this construct.  So, my short break was spent doing a literature search.  I found out that structural violence refers to the ways in which social structures can harm people (so structural refers to social structure and violence refers to harmful consequences).  Structural violence occurs among those people whose social status denies them access to scientific or social progress.  I am excited to apply this theoretical construct to the experiences of poorhouse inmates.  However, I have much more reading to do!

My first book signing is this Friday (May 30th) and I am scared to death!!  We are selling the book in the shop of a good friend who sells everything from flowers to jewelry (and now books!).  The signing was scheduled to coincide with a large neighborhood event, so hopefully there will lots of foot traffic.  I am the person who did not want a video camera at my own wedding, so I am not at all interested in being the center of attention.  However, I am told that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  I wonder if it is too late to hire a stunt double?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Like everyone else, my long weekend was a mixture of work and play.  Our canine guests enjoyed a weekend of sunshine and kiddie pools. We enjoyed friends and family at various picnics, parties and my son's regatta at the West Side Rowing Club.  After three days of party food, cocktails and sunshine I definitely need one more day for recovery. In reality, the dogs began arriving at 7:00 this morning.  We will also likely experience what I call Post Holiday Intestinal Distress Syndrome.  After a weekend of being fed party scraps, we will have more than a few canine guests suffering from this syndrome.  I have one very important rule in doggy daycare: If you eat it at home, you must poop it out or barf it up at home.  Sadly, this rule is seldom adhered to!

I find that I am feeling pretty overwhelmed after a three hour strategy meeting at UB on Saturday.  We have commitments for chapters in two edited volumes as well as writing our own book based on the symposium we presented in Calgary a few weeks ago.  The first chapter is for an edited volume on autopsy and dissection during the nineteenth century (sadly many poorhouse inmates who were not claimed for private burial  after their death were sent to medical schools for dissection in the mid to late nineteenth century).  The second will discuss the Erie County Poorhouse in the context of poor relief policy in the United States throughout the nineteenth century.  Our book as yet lacks focus.  We could go the scholarly route and elaborate on the research to date, which largely deals with the health and mortality of the inmates and patients who died at the Erie County Poorhouse and its associated facilities (it also included a hospital and an insane asylum).  We have so many historical documents (facility ledgers, municipal reports, new paper articles) that most of us feel that a scholarly discussion of health and mortality alone does not adequately tell the story of these individuals and their experiences. A bit more discussion is needed before we settle on a plan.

On the literary front, I am finding myself more intrigued by the woman who suffered from chorea.  If it was Huntington's Chorea, the detailed family history becomes more interesting because the disease was not well defined until 1872 (nearly 30 years later).  I am in hot pursuit of any mention of this woman or her family in any period medical journals.  I really think I can build a character around her.  The question is how does she fit into the Sloane sister's saga.  She had a surviving child as of 1854, so there is the possibility of building in a story about her struggle between keeping her only surviving child and her wish to shield him from the types of experiences she had as a child, witnessing her own mothers demise as a result of the disease.  Should she make an appearance in book two as a child and continue her story as an adult in book three?  If you have an opinion one way or the other, please feel free to share it!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Well, yesterday turned out to be quite a busy day.  We had twenty seven dogs, which left no time in my eleven hour work day for anything other than crowd control, poop patrol and noise management.  Lots of terriers always means lots of barking (they just don't know they are little and feel the need to challenge everyone!).  We were light on the pit bulls, which made the day a bit easier.  The pitties tend to keep the energy level up all day, thus the usual breaks in activity are interrupted by their very enthusiastic romping (much to the dismay of the older pooches, who look forward to their afternoon snooze!).  After work was total chaos, as hubby and I tried to squeeze in dinner, only to be interrupted by our son, who texted to say that crew had ended early.  Here's hoping today will be an easier day!

This morning's examination of the ECPH hospital records yielded this notation in the record of a 43 year old woman who had suffered from chorea (a convulsive disorder) for twelve years:


I am struck by several things.  The mother in me is deeply saddened by the loss of 4 out of her 5 children and fears for the future of the living child.  This woman could not have had an easy life.  It must have been terribly frightening as a child to have witnessed her mother (and perhaps her grandmother and aunt) in the throws of this disease.  The loss of her family also meant the loss of any support network to help in the raising (and loss) of her own children. As a scientist, I am impressed by the detailed family history collected by the physician who treated her.  She was admitted to the hospital on December 21, 1854, however the physician discussed her case from October of 1843.  Perhaps he had treated her over the years, through the deaths of her mother and children.  Sadly, the report is incomplete and does not record how long she was treated or when she was discharged.  Similarly, there are no details recorded on her condition as of December of 1854.

This record has important implications for our research as it reveals three generations of people whose condition may have resulted in periods when they were unable to work and in need of institutional relief.  This woman was listed as a laborer, and likely had few specialized skills.  There is no mention of husbands or fathers in the record, so any spousal support is uncertain.  We will be following this trail, as we are our German friends from Boden, so stay tuned!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bob said today would be slow as many folks were getting a head start on the long holiday weekend.  Not true at our Delaware location. Although the weather is lousy (again) the dogs don't seem to mind as they thunder across the floor, in pursuit of what, I don't know.  A note about the dogs, names will be changed to protect the guilty, the boys "Fido" and the girls "Fluffy".  To my clients:  Of course I am not talking about your dog!  One of my favorite Fluffy's has just arrived.  She weighs less than 10 lbs, but has the fearlessness of a Rottweiler and the attitude of terrorist, I mean terrier.  The day just got more interesting!

On the research front we have been on the trail of 350 German Paupers who came to Buffalo from Boden, Germany, in 1854.  By we, I mean myself and my scholarly soul mate and good friend JLR.  I first noticed their arrival in the hospital records.  A woman from this group was treated at the poorhouse hospital for ship fever (typhus fever).  Typhus was common aboard ships (hence the name) and was transmitted among humans from body lice (carried by rats, who were frequent, if unwanted, traveling companions).  The disease is characterized by high fever, head and body aches and a rash.  Epidemics of Typhus were common and often deadly during the nineteenth century.  The woman treated at the ECPH was admitted on November 6, 1854 and was discharged and listed as cured on November 26, 1854. Her record has the following notation:
Given that Typhus is an acute infectious disease, we would assume that the boat of paupers from Boden had arrived some time at the end of October or early November.  However, we have yet to find any record of their arrival in Buffalo.  Now I feel compelled to tell you that my scholarly soul mate and good friend JLR can find ANYTHING.  She is without a doubt the most skilled archival researcher I have had the pleasure to work with, so the fact that she can find no trace of them is highly unusual.  Fear not!  I have every confidence that she will find some record of our German paupers.  Why am I so interested, you ask?  Well, I am wondering if such a large number of paupers coming to Buffalo from another country is unusual.  I have lots of questions, like why Buffalo?  Who sent them and why?  How many were received at the poorhouse?  I also think this has the makings of a great story, so I am interested in maybe developing a novel around Ms. Fuller, age 36, who appears to have survived not only the journey to America, but also the deadly ship fever.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hi!  I am Rosanne Higgins.  Every day I juggle 25 (or so) barking dogs, the latest chapter in my second novel and the inmate and hospital records from the Erie County Poorhouse!  Why you ask?  Well, 17 years ago I received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Buffalo.  I left the field shortly before the death of my oldest child (at age 11 from a rare form of pediatric cancer), and opened a doggy daycare.  My husband and I have been running this business for the past 11 years.  For years I have been thinking about writing a novel based on my doctoral dissertation research on the Erie County Poorhouse (which served the destitute in Buffalo from 1829-1926).  Two years ago, I became involved again in the ECPH research at U.B. when part of the poorhouse cemetery was excavated.  By then my head was full of story ideas and my first novel, Orphans and Inmates literally spilled out of me (now available on Amazon).  Although I am trained as a skeletal biologist, the focus of my current research at UB involves looking at patterns of demography using the various inmate records associated with the institutions.  So, why am I telling you all this?  Well, some friends of mine have told me that this unusual juggling act of business owner, writer and researcher is at the very least interesting, and often amusing.  They thought other people might want to read about it.  Everyday I will share with you some aspect of one or all three of my endeavors.  Please join in the conversation when you can!