Spanish Flu Victim?

Carrie Tillman McCune Baker wasn’t a victim of the raging 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic. On November 30, 1918, she died of pellagra, according to the attending physician who signed her death certificate . [1]

What is pellagra, you’re asking? I’d never heard of it either so I ‘googled’ it. Wikipedia describes it as malnutrition from a vitamin deficiency resulting in the “three Ds: diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia” and states that pellagra was once common in the poorer sections of the South . [2]

I found more information about pellagra while researching lifestyles in southern cotton mill towns around the turn of the 20th century. Many mill workers’ diets consisted of fatback, beans, cornbread and potatoes and lacked sufficient amounts of protein from milk, cheese and meat. Women and children were the primary victims . [3] According to Carrie’s death certificate signed by her brother Tom Tillman, she was working as a mill operative at the time of her illness and death.

The images of pellagra skin lesions are shocking in their extensive covering of the hands, face, neck and feet. Other symptoms include hair loss, edema, tongue inflammation, nausea and vomiting, nerve damage and loss of coordination, weakened heart, and, eventually, dementia. This was obviously a debilitating, painful disease and death. Carrie died not knowing that her two soldier sons would return home to America safely. She lies in an unmarked grave in Girard Cemetery, Girard, AL.

Since Carrie’s two sons were overseas and she was buried the day after her death, it’s safe to assume that Frank and Granddaddy Bill didn’t attend their mother’s funeral. Our Aunt Rossie was only 13 and now an orphan. Who took her in? Both of her grandmothers were deceased. Did her young Aunt Ludie Hurst provide a home or maybe her Uncle Tom Tillman? Maybe one of her paternal aunts, Emma or Nettie, took care of her.

It’s quite sobering to think about the difficulties Carrie faced in her lifetime. She had struggled to provide a home for her children, experienced her husband’s violent death, moved around to live with various relatives, endured the loss of a child, worked long, hard hours in textile mills, was widowed twice, saw two sons head off to fight in a war, and suffered a painful death caused by malnutrition.

We don’t know much about her personally, but I see her as a resourceful woman who worked tenaciously to provide for her children as long as she had breath in her. I want to believe that before she died she made sure Rossie had a home with someone who would care for her. I do know from the 1920 U. S. Federal census two years later that Rossie, 15, was living with her older brother, Granddaddy Bill, 21, and his new wife, Mable, 20, on Cedar Hill St. in Girard, AL, and all three were working in the mills . [4]  Living right down the street were Granddaddy’s aunt, Emma Hardy, widowed, with her three children, and his aunt and uncle, Joseph and Nettie Prince, and their son.

I believe that Carrie would have been happy that two of her children were back together and relatives were nearby.

McCune, Carrie, standing0001(In recognition of Women’s History Month and one of our significant female ancestors, Great-Grandmother Carrie Tillman McCune Baker).

1. Georgia Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 1218 (1918), Carrie Baker, digital image, Georgia Deaths Index, 1914-1927, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015).

2. “Pellagra,” Wikipedia (http://www.en.wikipedia/wiki/pellagra.com: accessed 2015).

3. Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, et al. Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 150.

4. 1920 U.S. census, Russell County, Alabama, population schedule, Ward 5, Girard City, ED 186, sheet 15A, dwelling 438, family 443, Willie McCune; image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T625, roll 40.
Next time – The drama is over for now. Let’s “Play Ball!”

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