William Stearns


About Author: 

William is Senior Editor, Readex Digital Collections. He has been Editor of the Readex edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set since its early days. Previously, he was Editor of NewsBank Global Products and Assistant Vocabulary Editor. For the past ten years, he has also trained numerous NewsBank and Readex indexers.

Posts by this Author

“I tell what I have seen”: Treatment of the Mentally Ill in Early America

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The history of enlightened treatment of the mentally ill in the United States was significantly affected by Dr. Benjamin Rush, the famed Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1812 he published Medical Inquiries and Observations, upon the Diseases of the Mind in which he presented his ideas “with a hope that they may serve as a supplement to materials already collected, from which a system of principles may be formed that shall lead to general success in the treatment of the diseases of the mind.” He further wrote: “…the author believes those diseases can be brought under the dominion of medicine, only by just theories of their seats and proximate cause.” The first page of the table of contents evidences the breadth of his knowledge.

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In 1814 another of the country’s most eminent physicians, George Parkman of Boston, published his ideas for enlightened care in a volume titled Proposals for Establishing a Retreat for the Insane. Parkman concurred with Rush that mentally ill people were more likely to improve when they were domiciled in a good physical environment free from cruel treatment.

“I tell what I have seen”: Treatment of the Mentally Ill in Early America

“Is it proper to call every Indian a savage?”: Early Printed Accounts of the Social Life and Customs of Native Peoples

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Published accounts of the native peoples of North America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries—as depicted in these wide-ranging early American imprints—were varied in accord with the beliefs of the narrators.

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As described in his book below, the Reverend David Jones made two visits “to some nations of Indians on the west side of the River Ohio” in the early 1770s. On his travels he found several churches had been established among the Indians. After leading worship services at them, he remarked, “It was truly pleasing to behold the worship of God here, in a land so lately overspread with heathenish darkness and universal ignorance of God.” He subsequently described “some rude Indians…who had behaved insolently...”

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“Is it proper to call every Indian a savage?”: Early Printed Accounts of the Social Life and Customs of Native Peoples

‘Mild as the Harmless Lamb’: Instructions on Conduct for Females

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Among several common themes in early books for children, instruction in conduct recurs frequently. Searching American Children’s Books, 1654-1819, a new Readex database, whether using Suggested Searches or employing Advanced Search, will result in many relevant texts. As for girls, the instructions on conduct sometimes coincide with the instructions for boys, but not always.

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‘Mild as the Harmless Lamb’: Instructions on Conduct for Females

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 3: The Waves Continue, Jan. to Dec. 1919

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As seen in Part 2 of this series, U.S. newspaper coverage of the Spanish Influenza ended 1918 on a relatively positive note. On New Year’ Eve the San Jose Mercury News reported:

The conditions for San Jose and adjoining territory seem to be on a direct road to improvement as far as influenza is concerned….At all the local hospitals, the conditions were reported as better, nearly all those ill were doing nicely and the percentage of new cases had dropped to a very small number.

The next day, January 1, 1919, the same paper’s headline was “Influenza epidemic Takes Turn for Worse….38 Cases Reported.” Dr. James Bullitt, San Jose’s health officer warned “last night that a great deal of precaution must be observed in homes where cases of the disease exist….that the number of pneumonia cases developing each day is on the increase…”

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Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 3: The Waves Continue, Jan. to Dec. 1919

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 2: The Rapid Spread of the Epidemic in the United States, Oct. to Dec. 1918

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While the Boston area reeled under the burden of the epidemic, the influenza outbreak was spreading rapidly. On the same date, October 21, 1918, the Belleville News Democrat called the Illinois city of Mascoutah “the Center of Influenza Epidemic in St. Clair County with Three Hundred Cases…” and the Aberdeen Daily News announced “Influenza Epidemic Checked in Boston.” The article in the Aberdeen newspaper continued:

Normal conditions were resumed in this city today when places of public assembly were allowed to reopen by health officials. The places had been closed for nearly three weeks because of the epidemic of influenza which caused nearly 1,000 deaths here.

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Meanwhile, the article in the Belleville paper declared:

Influenza has invaded Mascoutah and today it is reported that there are about 300 cases in the city. Three deaths have already been reported and many more of those afflicted with the disease are said to be seriously ill. New cases are reported hourly.

The Illinois city had begun to establish some prophylactic measures.

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 2: The Rapid Spread of the Epidemic in the United States, Oct. to Dec. 1918

‘Women Who Wheel’: How the Bicycle Craze of the 1890s Helped to Expand Women’s Freedom

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In the late 19th century women began participating in the bicycle craze which men had enjoyed for two decades. This craze did not last long, but for women it was exciting and liberating. It was mostly affluent society women who defied the naysayers and avidly took to the streets on wheels. By 1889 American newspapers were spreading considerable ink on this latest trend.

In January 1889 the New York Tribune reported on a six-day bicycle race in Madison Square Garden for women only. The competition promised

…an exhibition of woman’s endurance that will rival the female walking matches that took place in certain cities seven or eight years ago….Fifteen women will start in the race and a dozen of the required number have already signed contracts to appear. The women will race eight hours a day instead of twenty-four.

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Two years later in 1891 the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an illustrated article on the “astonishing recent growth of the bicycle habit,” noting particularly that women were flocking to participate. Reporter John Heaton wrote:

‘Women Who Wheel’: How the Bicycle Craze of the 1890s Helped to Expand Women’s Freedom

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 1: The First Six Weeks of Epidemic in the United States, Sept. to Oct. 1918

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The Spanish Flu, which swept the globe for more than two years and killed as many as 100,000,000, was misnamed. The origins of the 1918 pandemic have been debated, but it is generally accepted that the disease was prevalent among the troops from Germany, France, and Great Britain fighting World War I. Because of the war, the press was censored in those countries. Spain was neutral and the press was not censored. Hence, the early reports of the spread of infection suggested that Spain was the vector. It was not.

Whatever the source, Boston was the first location in the United States to experience an outbreak, probably because of the troop ships and merchant marine vessels returning from Europe. In 1918, between September 10 and October 21, the disease grew exponentially and spread throughout the U.S. as seen in this national news coverage.

On September 10, 1918, the Fort Wayne Sentinel announced in a headline: Epidemic of Influenza Among Sailors in Boston.

Nearly 100 sailors of the merchant marine suffering from influenza, who have been stationed aboard training vessels in Boston harbor, were removed for treatment today to tents pitched on the summit of Corey hill…

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The next day the Pawtucket Times reported that

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 1: The First Six Weeks of Epidemic in the United States, Sept. to Oct. 1918

“Through the tears, confident and determined”: American Women Get the Vote One Century Ago

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August 18, 1920, was a momentous day for the women of America. When Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the act granting equal suffrage for women, which had been passed by Congress earlier in the year, became the law of the land. The preceding months of 1920 was a time of growing enthusiasm, apprehension, and frustration for the women and men who advocated for this landmark legislation.

On January 7, 1920, the Anaconda Standard of Montana published an article headlined “Suffrage Amendment is Still Short in 12 States.” At that time 36 states had to ratify a proposed amendment for the act to be added to the Constitution.

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Two days later, in a widely print Associated Press story, the Democratic leader of New Jersey attacked the amendment calling it “the mother of all ‘isms,’ the greatest menace now threatening the stability of the American government and American institutions.” He added that with along with prohibition the amendment “was forced through an effeminate, absentee congress of cowards by coercion and intimidation.”

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“Through the tears, confident and determined”: American Women Get the Vote One Century Ago

Ties that Bind: The Role of American Railroads in Expanding and Connecting Vast Territories

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The political question of internal improvements challenged lawmakers in the earlier days of the United States with the majority supporting the federal government taking an active role in the construction of roads, canals, and railroads. This view prevailed. Many schemes were put forward to construct railways that would connect canals and other waterways.

In 1829, W.C. Redfield published a pamphlet proposing a route that would establish connections among New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and several territories.

The construction of a Great Western Railway...is recommended to the attentive consideration of every citizen who feels an interest in the prosperity of his country, and wishes to promote its rapid advancement in wealth and power, by the multiplication of those physical resources which constitute national greatness, and best promote individual happiness and prosperity.

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By the 1830s railroads were being proposed and constructed rapidly. Many of these were of limited scope but funded variously by regional commercial and civic interests or the War Department which had a sustaining interest in the nation’s defense infrastructure.

Ties that Bind: The Role of American Railroads in Expanding and Connecting Vast Territories

Women in War: From the American Indian Wars to the American Civil War

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The experiences of women in wartime have been less well documented than those of men. Their contributions, their sufferings and heroism merit closer attention. The wealth of digitized primary sources in Readex collections offer fresh opportunities for researchers to study women who lived through, and often participated in, conflicts across multiple centuries and continents. In this post, we will touch on the diverse roles played by women in American wars from the early days of settlement through the middle of the 19th century.

The earliest European settlements in North America conflicted with the various Indian tribes which populated the eastern lands of the continent. One popular type of publication was the captivity narrative. In 1754 Susanna Willard Johnson and her family were taken captive by the Abenakis and held for four years. After her release she published a popular account.

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Women in War: From the American Indian Wars to the American Civil War

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