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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Letha Ann Sloan Osteen, June 8, 1979. Interview H-0254. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Common diseases in mill towns traced to dirty conditions

Common illnesses like pellagra and variety of other diseases were related to the dirty conditions in mill towns.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Letha Ann Sloan Osteen, June 8, 1979. Interview H-0254. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN TULLOS:
Well, we'll talk about your experience real carefully. I remember what I was going to ask about, was this pellagra. Did you all know any other people that had that?
GEORGIA:
Yeah, a lot of people had that. They said at one time my sister had it, but she didn't do it, she must've had ulcers in her stomach or something. They had her on a big old can of yeast, about two cans of yeast a week. But they didn't know how to doctor people . . .
LETHA ANN SLOAN OSTEEN:
And she got so big, and she just put on weight eating that yeast.
GEORGIA:
And it's ulcers without a doubt. Nerves, a nervous stomach. They didn't know what ailed people. And they had about four things that-see they didn't know a thing about cancer unless it was a big old sore come on the outside. Now, then cancers killed people just the same as they do today, but they didn't know it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
So you think a lot of what they called pellagra might a been something else.
GEORGIA:
Well sure, it had to be gall bladder or anything. . . .
LETHA ANN SLOAN OSTEEN:
I don't know what pellagra was.
GEORGIA:
That's just an old saying, that old folks, if you was puny or sick, well you had pellagra. I don't know what that word meant.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When did you first hear about it, did people have it out in the country or in the mill area?
GEORGIA:
The first I ever knowed I guess I was four years old when we come here and Aunt Jessie said that she had pellagra. That it wasn't . . .
LETHA ANN SLOAN OSTEEN:
Aunt Jessie died with pellagra.
GEORGIA:
Turned into her mind-her mind went bad after she had her last child so . . .
ALLEN TULLOS:
That would be John's wife.
GEORGIA:
Yeah, his wife, his first. But now the only problem being old, any old person, anything that ailed 'em, they had pellagra or consumption or if they died real sudden with a high temperature, and some fever. Well the conditions, the living conditions was filth, it was just filthy.
ALLEN TULLOS:
They were.
GEORGIA:
You couldn't keep things like people does today because it was impossible. All the hot water you had you heated it. . . .
LETHA ANN SLOAN OSTEEN:
They had these outside johnnys and the water out in the street.
GEORGIA:
You done everything. Flys, no screens, no screen doors. And they died, I guess half of 'em died from ptomaine poisoning or something.