The Scourge of Whooping Cough, 1903 | Prairie Public Broadcasting

The Scourge of Whooping Cough, 1903

Aug 26, 2019

Whooping cough was among the scariest of childhood diseases. Known also as pertussis, whooping cough came from the bacterium “Bordetella pertussis.” Adults could get whooping cough, but its effects were deadliest in children. Consequently, whooping-cough epidemics, before the days of antibiotics and vaccines, were greatly feared, for its germs were highly contagious.

The disease resembled a common cold for its first two weeks, but the next two weeks brought accumulations of “thick mucus” inside one’s airways, bringing fits of “uncontrollable coughing.” The episodes occurred, “over and over” again, until all the air had been expelled from the victim’s lungs, forcing a desperate, deep inhalation through partly-closed vocal cords, creating a peculiar, loud ‘whooping’ noise, and an “appalling feeling” of near-suffocation. If the whooping cough sufferer survived the two weeks of spasmodic coughing and whooping, a long convalescence of at least two weeks followed. There could also be complications like pneumonia or broken ribs from the coughing.

In 1907, the North Dakota Board of Health reported 194 deaths from whooping cough. Lurking beneath the statistics were tales of tragic loss.

It was on this date, in 1903, that a Minot newspaper printed a terse report on the condition of a nineteen-month-old toddler named Harry Edgar Evers, who was “having more than his share of trouble.” The little boy had suffered “an illness extending over a year.” Young Harry Evers “was first taken ill with the measles,” then he “went through a siege of whooping cough.” Nonetheless, the local physician, Dr. Taylor, believed he could “save his little patient.”

Sadly, after whooping cough, the boy’s illness “developed into bronchitis.” Next came dropsy or edema, body-swelling caused by accumulation of fluids. It got worse as Bright’s Disease damaged the youngster’s kidneys beyond recovery.

Harry Edgar Evers, born on January 2nd, 1902, died at the age of 20 months, on September 25, 1903, his health having been ravaged by whooping cough and ever-worsening complications.

His parents, known only as Mr. and Mrs. “B.H. Evers,” buried their baby boy at Rosehill Cemetery on Minot’s South Hill. Public sympathy poured out to the bereaved, for “this was their only child.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department

Sources:

“B.H. Evers Nineteen Months’ Old Boy,” Ward County Independent [Minot, ND], August 26, 1903, p. 7; “Baby Boy Dies,” Ward County Independent, September 30, 1903, p. 4.

“Harry Edgar Evers,” Find A Grave, ancestry.com, accessed July 25, 2019.

John B. Huber, “Whooping Cough I,” Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield, Massachusetts], March 21, 1916, p. 13.

“Board of Health,” Bismarck Tribune, January 12, 1909, p. 5.

“Whooping Cough,” Bismarck Tribune, May 29, 1913, p. 6.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/complications.html, accessed July 25, 2019.

“Whooping Cough,” U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://medlineplus.gov/whoopingcough.html, accessed July 25, 2019.

“Whooping Cough,” Mayo Clinic.org,  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whooping-cough/symptoms-causes/syc-20378973, accessed July 25, 2019.