Some days, I feel like writing, and some days I don’t.  I feel like writing today, and have no idea where I am headed.  perhaps I will erase this line when I get there.  Or not.

Living in the present moment, I sent another birthday card this morning. Our family like many others celebrates more birthdays in September than any other month.  Years ago, when I was studying demography, we learned that September had the highest birth rate.  Mostly, I suspect that’s because of new Year’s Eve parties.

It’s certainly true in David’s case.  He a late baby, his mother had no planned pregnancy, and he was the caboose, arriving long after the elder brother and sister were old enough to look out for themselves.

So David got it into his head he was “unwanted” and even compiled a rather full photo album of himself he entitled The Unwanted Child.

After we met and married he moaned about being an unwanted child until one day I said, “For goodness sake, your mother was European, don’t you think she knew anything about abortion?”  Both Pola and her sister had emigrated from Russia during the Revolution (they were White Russians).  Both he and I knew she could have obtained an abortion if she had wanted one.

Until the Comstock Laws at the end of the nineteenth century, abortion in the US was quite common.  (Evidence suggests abortion continued long afterward, but in fewer numbers.)  In fact, evidence shows that women were very familiar with all sorts of birth control measures before the passage of the Comstock Laws.

The myth of the Victorian family is a MYTH.  Birth rates dropped throughout the nineteenth century, reaching their nadir in the 1930s.  Today, efforts in the years following immigration restrictions (end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries) by Susan B. Anthony and others to “introduce” birth control among the “toiling masses” are seen by some historians as a form of racism, based ideas concerning Social Darwinism.

Like Prohibition, part ‘moral’ mandate, part practical, the Comstock Laws were designed to stop the fall in birth rates among Native women.

The Comstock Law is a federal act passed by the United States Congress on March 3, 1873, as the Act for the “Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use”. The Act empowered the U.S. Postal Service to refuse to handle through the mail erotica; contraceptive medications or devices; abortifacients; sexual implements, such as the ones used in masturbation; contraceptive information; and advertisements for contraception, abortion, or sexual implements. It made the use of the post for those purposes illegal and punishable. ~ Wikipedia

Interestingly, historians link the beginning of the Women’s Movement to the Seneca Falls meeting in 1848, before the passage of the Comstock Laws.  I could go on and on with this history because I love it, but you know the rest.  Like many human endeavors, the US has moved two steps forward and one step back over time….but it is remains an exceptional country because it predetermined the eventual enfranchisement of all its citizens at its founding.


Mom, Jacob Dad and Sean Summer 2014

Mom, Jacob, Dad and Sean
Summer 2014

My grandson Jacob turns fifteen next week.  He is now taller than many in his age group, hovers over his mom, and is catching up with his dad. Seems like only yesterday he was a little boy.  The height in our family comes down the line from English-descent folks.  Great-Grandpa Nichols was huge.  I told Aunt Audrey, my Mom’s sister, it must be the Viking blood in Dad’s family.  One of these days, I am going to have that DNA test to prove it.  Today, I need a Flu shot.


This morning, I have been working on Second Great Grandfather Jonas Nichols’ Civil War records.  I think I have finally nailed it.  He  and his brothers registered for the federal draft in 1863, but joined the militia in New Hampshire.  Jonas mustered out of the Union Army at Fort Camden Arkansas in 1865.

I am no military historian, but I think the ins and out of soldiers during the Civil War had to do with the formation of a standing army.  Until the Civil War, state militias mobilized and went to war.  With the Civil War standing armies formed in both the North and South.   That graduate history degree I worked on for six years is paying off.






16 thoughts on “Rambling

  1. My maternal grandmother was the youngest of 13, one mother, and my paternal grandmother was one of three children, both Catholic farm families. I know around their births there was a sort of recession or depression going on (1893 and 1894). The smaller family prospered and remained in Iowa. the larger family moved from Iowa to Wisconsin and finally with their mother to an Oregon ranch of one of their older brothers. They followed the two younger sisters (including my grandmother) who had been “farmed” out there, meaning they couldn’t feed them. My Dad’s Mom had four children neatly spaced 2 years apart. Mom’s mother had only my mother. Reaction to 13 siblings I imagine, at any rate it appears they caught onto or knew quite a bit about “family planning,” one way or another.


    • Interesting, and also on target. There were several “recessions” in the years following the Civil War. The 1890s were the worst. Westerners wanted to get off the gold standard and use silver as currency. Hence W.J. Bryant’s famous Cross of Gold speech.

      As your roots lie in the Midwest, you might be interested to know a politician named Frank Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz as a parody of conditions in the Midwest, around the time your family was suffering so much distress. The Scarecrow represents the Farmer. The yellow brick road is the gold standard. Dorothy’s shoes were silver in the book. The wicked witch of the East is the wicked east…New York and Boston. The lion is Bryant.

      I am also not surprised to learn the Midwestern farmers in your family were RC. I bet the were also from Germany-Switzerland-Austria?


  2. It is gratifying to see the progress we are making in holding down population growth in the U.S. Now, if we can set reasonable limits on immigration the situation may get even better.


    • True, the birth rate, depending on which measure you use, is lower today. However, we now have over 300 million inhabitants, three times as many as we had in 1940. Puts a huge strain on everything, especially natural resources. And water is finite.


    • And you and Gregg have one child?

      Gregg’s father’s family was larger than the norm for the US at that time. My x’s father’s farm family had 16 children, 9 boys served in WWII. David’s city family (same time frame) had three children.

      That Gregg’s dad fought in WWII makes me think if there was only one mother, she had those children in the 1910s perhaps into the 1920s? And perhaps they lived on a farm? The working class generally had larger families than the upper middle class.

      As for your family, which is English, I don’t know when birth rates began to drop, although the size of your father’s mother’s family is close to the norm. There has been a birth dearth on and off in recent decades ameliorated by immigration.

      Losses in WWI and WWII in England messed up the succession of age groups because many women could not marry, and many spouses and fathers were lost to war. The large birth cohort of the 1950s followed WWII.


  3. I remember attending a meeting, where a white woman with 6 children said she dreaded sex with her husband because she feared getting pregnant a seventh time. Her Catholic beliefs prevented her from using birth control other than the rhythm method and the mucus method. Rather sad, isn’t it?


  4. One of your usual fascinating historical blogs. Coming from a very small family….My mother was an only child, father had one brother, I had one brother, my wife had one sister, her mother had one brother, her father was an only child………it always intrigues me when large families trace their lineage. I know some family reunions include hundreds of people. You could fit my family reunion in a phone booth.


    • The the number of descendants increases with each generation. Only child families are exceptional. Your and your wife have two children. If each of them has two children, voila…four descendants. If each of them has two children eight grandchildren….and so forth.


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