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Typhoid Mary and Women’s History Month

Kinda gets ya in the old gazebo, don’t it?

On 27 March 1915, Typhoid Mary (Mary Mallon) was quarantined for life on North Brother Island in the East River between the Bronx and Riker’s Island. In the fifteen years previous, she had worked for as many as a dozen different jobs as a private home cook, and in all but one of those families people sickened and died, whereupon she left and took another job.  She was thought to be responsible for as many as 22 cases of typhoid and three deaths from typhoid in the metropolitan New York area.  The problem at the time was that:

  1. She was always asymptomatic;
  2. Despite her profession as a cook, she didn’t understand the need for basic hygiene, like washing hands;
  3. She consistently refused to believe that she was the problem and refused to change professions;
  4. Neither the public health profession nor the medical profession had ever seen an asymptomatic carrier of disease.

When she was detained in 1907 for studies the medical profession, led by typhoid researcher George Sopher, proved that she was carrying the bacillus and showed her the proof, she refused to believe it.  But in 1910 the health authorities had no power to detain her or any other disease carrier and she was released after she agreed to no longer work as a cook. She kept her word only briefly, and was back in the kitchen by 1911. Three more families sickened and some members died, and she kept leaving.  Finally, in 1915, Mallon was arrested and quarantined for the rest of her life.  Until her death in 1938 at the age of 69, she refused to believe that the bacilli she carried in her gallbladder was responsible for all those cases of typhoid.

This week ends Women’t History Month, which has been proclaimed annually by American presidents since 1988. Canada has marked it since 1992; Australia since 2000. Each year has a different theme, and each year we are graced with some dramatic entertainments made especially to commemorate the role of women in our history; so many that I have stopped looking for them.  And each year the overdrawn and painfully inaccurate films are relegated to the dustbins. That this month includes such events as the incarceration of Typhoid Mary, Anne Boleyn’s beheading, the death of Elizabeth I, the founding of Girl Scouts USA and the Camp Fire Girls, the seating of Jeanette Rankin in the US House of Representatives, and Helen Keller meeting Anne Sullivan. Diversity, thy name is woman.

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The Black Death and National Proposal Day (R)

Okay, okay…I can get weirder combinations for 20 March, like the Great Fire of London in 1760 and the founding of the Republican Party in 1854, or Einstein publishing General Relativity in 1916 and the British liberation of Mandalay in 1945.  But, at least here, there’s theoretical conjunction.

It was said by some astrologers that the Black Death (bubonic plague) was made by the conjunction of Venus, Mars and Venus in the 40th degree of Aquarius on 20 March 1345. Modern researcher feel that the Yersina Pestis bacillus almost certainly originated in China in the fleas that infest common ground rodents like rats, marmots and gerbils.of central Asia and eastern Africa.  The plague that first swept across Europe in the 14th century probably reached Constantinople in 1347, but had reached modern Kyrgyzstan at least a decade before that, after having devastating Mongolia and China beginning as early as 1330. By the time it reached northern Scandinavia and northern Russia in 1351 it had killed millions of people, some estimates as high as 200 million across Eurasia. Plague still strikes the southeastern US from time to time, but the last outbreak was of an antibiotic-resistant strain in Madagascar in 2014.

Today, too, is the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere, when the Earth’s motions make the sun appear to “cross” the equator. It is also National Proposal Day (R) that John Michael O’Loughlin of Irving, Texas troubled himself to trademark so he could sell Proposal Day cards (yup, Buy your Proposal Day (R) cards here!) on a web site that has an unusual number of Emma Watson pictures.  But, if you waited until today to get your cards, you’re too late. Still, it’s a nice idea: a day to assure that special someone in a single’s life that they’re worth spending a lifetime with.  And there’s nothing wrong with that. So, if you’e unattached, think about it.  It doesn’t even have to be marriage, and you don’t even have to be single: it could be prom (for those still of that age) or a local mixer/party/celebration of any sort. Grab this opportunity to make that Special One (whoever..even your spouse) feel worthwhile today: your next chance is in September on the Autumnal Equinox.

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The K9 Corps and National K9 Veteran’s Day

Well, there’s a lot to say about 13 March, but I’m only covering war dogs today.

There isn’t a field of endeavor that humans haven’t involved dogs in. Animal husbandry, farming (property protection), human assistance (leader dogs for the blind date back to Roman times), laborers (pulling everything from carts to wagons), motive power (treadmills), foot warmers and clowns. And of course, war.

The ancient Egyptians and Chinese bred dogs to act a sentinels, as shock weapons, and to attack enemy livestock and pack animals. Despite their ancient history, use of military dogs was haphazard before WWI, and even then there was little organization in their training or husbandry. Military dogs become more widely known after the Great War when an abandoned German Shepard named Rin Tin Tin was brought to America and became a movie sensation in the 1920’s. By 1942, there was enough demand for war dogs in the United States that the US Army Quartermaster Corps formed an official organization unofficially named the “K9 Corps” as outlined by Edmund Gregory on 13 March 1942.  Regular training centers sprang up everywhere, preparing thousands of dogs for all branches of service, including the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Primarily German Shepards were used, but Dobermans, several breeds of Huskies, Labradors and herding dogs were used as sentinels, scout and patrol animals, sniffers for mines and casualties, and some (mostly privately owned National Guard members) as trackers and prisoner herders.

The Americans were not alone in using dogs in WWII, of course.  The Germans used them for routine sentinel duties; the Soviets trained some as anti-tank mines (which didn’t work); the Italians used them in Africa to control rats; the Belgians to tow machine guns; the Norwegians and Icelanders for search-and-rescue.  The only major belligerents that made no official use of dogs in WWII were the Japanese.

After WWII most military organizations turned their dogs over to the military police, which is where they are in the US armed forces today. By 2008, there were over 500 dog handler teams in the Army, and an unknown number n the other branches. The USO and VA use dogs as greeters and as therapy for returning human vets.

So today, 13 March, is marked as National K9 Veteran’s Day. As much as the dogs who serve two masters (their handlers and their country) are valued, many are simply destroyed when they reach the end of their useful lives, usually about five years.  An organization called is out to change that, finding homes for “the other forgotten soldiers” who have done their bits and just want to live out their lives by the fire. Click the link and see if you can help.

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National Dress Day and My New Gig

Oh, there’s a lot I could talk about this week, like the discovery of Guam in 1561, the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the Alamo in 1836, and Malenkov succeeding Stalin in 1953, among other things. But today there’s dresses. And my career.

National Dress Day began with Ashley Lauren Kerr of ASHLEYLauren declaring 6 March that in 2016 (why 6 March is still a mystery–probably a birthday). Lauren is known for classic dress designs that recall a simpler age and a simpler social dynamic.  Though many 21st century designers have reached back in time for inspiration, ASHLEYLauren seems to have resurrected the 20’s “flapper” shapelessness and melded it with vivid ’60’s colors and lines, resulting in bold and personal high-end women’s attire (and no, I didn’t copy that from anywhere else).  But these things are expensive, and some of the lovely creations, like the prom dress above, will set the buyer back a month’s rent or more. And for prom?  We all know what kind of disasters we can see when a bunch of hormonal teenagers get together (and no, I never went to any of mine). Personally I don’t get it, but I’m told that I’m poisoned by my Y chromosome. So, those of you of whatever gender definition you choose who are so inclined, wear a dress and post pictures of your faves on social media today.

My writing career sometimes takes me away from my home office, and for the next three to six months that’s what will happen. The commute it about 45 minutes one-way, and that won’t allow a lot of time for a weekly blog (sorry, but I have other commitments on the weekends).  So this blog may become irregular for a while, or be restricted to my holding forth on whatever national day I elect to talk about.  All that means, my loyal readers (both of you) is that I’m out making money writing for someone else so I can continue writing my own material for a bit longer.