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Mountain Mamas: 1938

Mountain Mamas: 1938

September 1938. "Wife of unemployed coal miner, suffering from T.B., with her mother and children. Family living in old company store. Abandoned mining town of Marine, West Virginia." Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. View full size.


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Family TB

My paternal grandmother, Katherine Marie Kavanaugh, bless her memory and her legacy, already had TB when she bore my father in 1925. By the time my Dad was 5, she had died and it was suspected the my Dad was infected also. By his 10th year, Johns Hopkins gave him a clean bill of health. Dad died in his 87th year still fearing, every day, the return of TB to his lungs.

A disease of poverty

Sadly, tuberculosis is still a disease found on U.S. Indian reservations, and far too many other locales. TB should be long gone, but it is with us still.

Not long for the world

The children are healthy, the grandma looks hearty enough, but the poor mother with TB! Her bedraggled hair, bony frame, sunken eyes. As though things weren't bad enough.


That poor mother's expression is haunting. I wonder how much longer she lived. The kids look healthy enough now, but before antibiotics, TB (called consumption then) took whole families. It took several of my relatives around 1920 and two spent time in a sanitarium and recovered, including my maternal grandmother.

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