This section is from the "The Young Mother. Management of Children in Regard to Health" book, by William A. Alcott. Also available from Amazon: The Young Mother
Mistakes about hardening children. Their clothing. Much cold enfeebles. The Scotch Highlanders. The two extremes equally fatal—over-tenderness and neglect. An interesting anecdote from Dr. Dewees.
While I have been very particular in enjoining on my readers the importance of thoroughly ventilating their dwellings, I have also insisted upon the necessity of taking children abroad, as much as possible. Not, however, to harden them, so much as to give them a more free access to air and light than they can have at home; and also—when they are old enough—to cultivate the faculties of attention, comparison, &c.
The practice of attempting to harden children by frequent exposure to air much colder than that to which they have been accustomed, without sufficient additional clothing, is open to the same objections which have been brought against cold bathing. Under the management of a judicious medical practitioner, it may do great good to a few constitutions; but its indiscriminate use would injure a thousand infants for one who was benefited.
True it is that if the child is protected against cold, no harm, but on the contrary much good may result, from carrying him abroad into the fresh air, even in very cold weather. But what can be more painful than to see the little sufferers carried along when their limbs are purple, or benumbed with cold? And how idle it is to hope that such exposure hardens or improves the constitution!
It is on the same mistaken principle that many adults go thinly clad, late in the fall. I have seen men in November and December beating and rubbing their hands, who, on being asked why they did not wear mittens, replied, that if they should wear one pair of mittens so early in the season, they should want two in the winter.
Now I cheerfully admit that to put on additional clothing before the severity of the weather demands it, actually produces the effect here supposed; but to endure severe cold, on the contrary, never hardens anybody. Nay, more, it enfeebles. Cold, when combined with the evils of poverty, produces more mischief and destroys more lives than any one disease in the whole catalogue of human maladies.
Adam Smith says that it is not uncommon for mothers in the Highlands of Scotland, who have borne twenty children, to have only two of them alive.
It may be difficult to say whether children are oftener destroyed by over-tenderness than by neglect, and the evils incident to poverty. Both extremes are common; while the happy medium—that of conducting a child's education upon the principles of physiology, is rarely known, and still more rarely followed.
I have been much amused, and not a little instructed, by the following anecdote on this point, from Dr. Dewees:
We were speaking with a lady who had lost three or four children with "croup," who informed us she was convinced, from absolute experiment, that there was nothing like exposure to all kinds of weather to protect and harden the system. By her first plan of managing her children, which was by keeping them very warmly clad, she said she lost several by the croup; but since she had adopted the opposite scheme, her children had been perfectly healthy, and never had betrayed the slightest disposition to that terrible disease which had robbed her of her children.
Perhaps, madam, we observed, you did not, in making your first experiments, attend to a number of details which might be thought essential to the plan. You did not probably take the proper precautions when you sent them into the cold air, or observe what was important for them when they returned from it.
"Oh, yes," she replied, "I took every possible care when they, were going out. I always made them wear a very warm great coat, well lined with baize, and a fur cape or collar. I always made them wear a 'comfortable' round their necks, made of soft woollen yarn. And as for their feet, they were always protected by socks or over-shoes lined with wool or fur, as the weather might be wet or dry."
Do you believe, madam, they were kept at a proper degree of warmth by these means?
"Oh, certainly. Indeed, rather too warm; for they would often be in a state of perspiration, they told me, when in the open air; especially if they ran, slid, or skated."
And what was done when they were thus heated?
"Oh, they got cool enough before they reached home."
And would they receive no injury in passing from this state of perspiration to that of chill?
"Not at all; for when this happened, I always made them take a little warm brandy, or wine and water, and made them toast their feet well by the fire." [Footnote: This absurd custom is a fruitful source of that distressing condition of the hands and feet, in winter, called "chilblains."]