It seems to me that the ancients very appropriately had a goddess as well as a god of health and the healing art, inasmuch as the care and preservation of health comes so largely within the natural sphere of woman. Vigorous constitutions can be built up in well-conducted homes, and this even when the natural constitution is feeble. I have done in my time a great deal of talking on the subject of healthful homes. At Mrs. Black’s some one is sick half or more than half the time; I visited Mrs. Black once to offer any service in my power, when two of her daughters were ill. Mrs. Black said: “It is impossible to keep well in this world where there are so many things to induce disease.” I replied: “We must not blame the world too rashly, Mrs. Black, for we shall find that while there are many things to induce disease, there are just as many to produce good health.”
“Look at our changeful climates: hot one day, cold the next.”
“True; but if, summer and winter, we would wear a flannel garment next to the skin, varying the thickness of the garment with the change of season, we should, provided we kept the feet in sufficiently thick shoes, very seldom be affected by the changes in the temperature.”
“As for flannel,” said Mrs. Black, “my girls won’t wear it; it makes them look so stout and full about the chest and waist.”
“I hope the day will come,” I replied, “when a wasp-waist and a pair of thin shoulders will not be esteemed beauty: we have had our ideas ruined by trash novels, praising ‘fragile forms’ and ‘delicate beauty,’ ‘dainty waists,’ ‘snow-drop faces,’ and a lot of other nonsense. What prospect have such beauties of seeing three-score, or what physique are their sons likely to possess? Indeed, Mrs. Black, I think you should have made it a matter of course, from infancy, that your children wore flannel under-garments. Really, there is nothing cheaper, safer, or more comfortable. I knew a young girl whose two elder sisters had died with consumption; symptoms of the disease appeared in her: a friend took her to a famous physician. He said: ‘She had better be sent to the south of France.’ The lady replied: ‘Doctor, her parents are absolutely unable to take her away from home; they have not the means.’ The doctor meditated: it was November: ‘Has she flannel on?’ No, the young lady did not like flannel. ‘Take her home,’ said the doctor, ‘and put her in heavy flannel from her neck to her toes, and see that she wears it, with some variation as to quality, twelve months in the year.’ The order was obeyed, and for ten years she has been in good health.”
“And there is another means of health-preserving, Mrs. Black, which we greatly neglect — sunshine. Plenty of sunshine is a very wine of life. We should let it fall broadly into our rooms, especially where we eat, sit and sleep. Nine months in the year our windows should daily stand broadly open for a sun-bath. In our hot summers, our homes seem to get saturated with sunshine, unless our houses are very thickly shaded by vines and trees, and possibly then two hours of early morning sunshine will be enough.”
“But, my dear Miss Sophronia, it ruins the carpets.”
“Better sacrifice the carpets than the health: we are too much the slaves of carpets; if I could not have the carpet and the sun, I would give up the carpet. The sunbeams hold no spores of disease: carpets frequently do; sunbeams have no dust, dangerous to weak lungs: carpets do. But, Mrs. Black, a drugget, or a carpet-cover, or even a coarse sheet can be flung over the carpet if it needs protecting; and then let in those invigorating rays, which God meant should counteract disease. I believe many diseases can be cured by merely plenty of fresh air and sunshine.”
Mrs. Black was dwelling on my heterodoxy as to carpets.
“Dear Miss Sophronia! banish carpets! bare floors! What would you do? How would you live?”
“Mrs. Black, it seems to me that we do not sufficiently value mattings, especially in bed-rooms. They are free from dust; of a good quality, they wear a long time; they are easy to sweep; they look clean; and the sun does not harm them: remember, they grew under tropic suns; they have no harmful dye-stuffs in them. Some object that they are cold, but this can be obviated by rugs laid before the bed, washstand and bureau. Let me tell you my experience: I spent a year once, while my house was being built, with my half-sister in the city. She treated me royally; my bed-room was dressed in rose and gray French chintz, rose-tinted wall-paper, and had a rose-colored velvet carpet. It was altogether too fine for the sun to shine in: the sun would ruin it. A furnace, with air-feeders from out of doors, kept the house warm and dry; but nevertheless I was a martyr to rheumatism. Cousin Ann, hearing this, sent for me to spend the next winter with her at the farm. My room had white-washed walls, white curtains, a white counterpane and white matting.”
“Goodness!” interrupted Mrs. Black, “I should think it would have made you think of a whited sepulchre!”
“Not at all,” I retorted: “its conditions were such that it was unlikely to have in it either rottenness or dead men’s bones. Color was lent it by three or four bright rugs and a colored set of toilette mats, with a few pictures. I kept wondering why that simple room looked and felt so beautiful. I perceived that the floods of sunshine, which, during the whole day, poured in at one of its three bright windows lent it its chief charm. My health was perfectly restored.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Black, “my girls would rather be sick half the time than get well by wearing flannels and stout shoes, and going out in the sun exercising and spoiling their complexions, or having their carpets and curtains faded out by having all the blinds open.”
“But as a mere matter of beauty, Mrs. Black,” I urged, “there is no beauty in a sallow, sickly complexion, and if they are sick half the time, what will result? Medicine and bad digestion will ruin their teeth; ill health will make their faces wan and faded; their color will be lost; their hair will be dry and thin; at twenty-five they will look ten years older; they will have a fretted, disappointed, troubled expression, and will always feel dispirited and uncomfortable.”
However, there is no use talking with Mrs. Black. It is no wonder that her girls are so captious, and look so feeble. Thin-soled shoes, no flannel, no exercise, very little fresh air, and almost no sunshine in their house; and this record might do for very many other families.