One of many victims of Spinal Meningitis in 1938 McDowell Co, WV
Evelyn Stanley died at age eleven in McDowell Co, WV, one of many youngsters who died far too early from contagious diseases in the nation at that time. Meningitis was in most cases fatal at that time, and still has a high mortality rate, but those who were and are survivors are left with disabilities in varying degrees of severity.
Evelyn was the oldest child of Goldie May Boling and Robert
Smith Stanley, born in Coalwood 3 Nov 1926 and died
1 2 3 4
After her death, all of Evelyn’s things were kept in a large truck that was like a free standing closet with shelves and drawers and a rod for hanging clothes. Every Memorial Day, the trunk was opened and the wonderful treasures taken out while my parents told stories about this special person in their hearts. I was born six years after Evelyn died, but I grew up knowing her as a part of our family. I still have many of Evelyn’s treasures and they have a special significance for me since all of my nuclear family has now joined her.
I made a trip to WV in May, 2006 specifically to find out
where Evelyn is buried. I did find an
article at the Cultural Center State Archives Library in
McDowell Recorder 13
Apr 1938 (This newspaper is available on microfilm beginning with its inception
in 1911at the Cultural Center State Records Archives at the Capitol Complex in
Meningitis Claims Big Four Student
Eleven - Year - Old Evelyn Stanley Dies Thursday Afternoon
Evelyn Stanley, 11-year-old daughter of Mr & Mrs Robert Stanley, of Big Four, died at a local hospital Thursday afternoon of spinal meningitis.
She became ill about Thursday morning and was immediately taken to a local hospital. Death came shortly after .
Evelyn was born on
Sep [sic] 3, 1926 at Coalwood. She moved
to Kimball with her family several years ago and lived in Kimball until last
year when the
She was a pupil in
Funeral services were
held Saturday afternoon at at the
The Ashworth Funeral home had charge of the body.
I took some creative
license in making Evelyn a virtual headstone and pathway leading to
Meningitis in McDowell Co 1938
I used the death record images on the
McDowell Co, WV 1938
96 Total Deaths 59 Adults Not Meningitis Related 37 Children Not Meningitis Related
One child was listed as a possible meningitis death and was counted only in total children’s deaths.
One child died from rheumatic fever, two from whooping cough, and one from scarlet fever. January deaths represent approx 10% of total 1938 deaths.
66 Total Deaths 41 Adults Not Meningitis Related 20 Children Not Meningitis Related
There was one adult and four children who died from Spinal Meningitis in 1938 McDowell Co, about 7% for that month relative to total deaths for that year. The one adult was Black. The children were all White ranging in age from eleven months to five years. One death was listed as ‘epidemic meningitis’ which may be a reflection of circumstances prior to that particular month and/or year. Since the CDC considers 10% of the general population in a given area significant enough to be deemed an epidemic, one could not say spinal meningitis was in epidemic proportions in the month of February in 1938 McDowell Co. It is possible, but unlikely, there was a large meningitis survival rate which could have determined whether it was an epidemic or not.
115 Total Deaths Adults 73 Not Meningitis Related Children 40 Not Meningitis Related
There were two adults and no children who died from spinal meningitis in March. Of the two adults who died, one was a Black orderly at the hospital in Welch and the other was race unknown; she was merely listed as American. They represent about 1% of the total deaths for March. March deaths represented about 13 % of total deaths for the year.
76 Total Deaths 50 Adults Not Meningitis Related 23 Children Not Meningitis Related
Two adults died from spinal meningitis in April as well as one child (my sister, Evelyn). April deaths represented about 8% of total deaths. Deaths from spinal meningitis represented less than 1%.
68 Total Deaths 36 Adults Not Meningitis Related 30 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were two deaths from spinal meningitis, both children, one White, one Black, four and 11 years old respectively. One child died from whooping cough. Total May deaths represented 7% of deaths for 1938. Meningitis deaths were less than 1%.
45 Total Deaths 25 Adults Not meningitis Related 18 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were two meningitis deaths in June, one adult, a Black man who also had tuberculosis and syphilis, and a white child, age 19 who was still in school. A person that age listed as a child and a school boy could have been for a number of interesting reasons in daily mountain life at that time. One may note the death numbers are down from previous months. This probably had something to do with living conditions being less rigorous in warmer months than it was in colder months. My mother was extremely clean, but it was difficult to have enough water to drink, cook, wash dishes and clothes, and bath in, much less have available water from a frozen spring to scrub wooden plank floors with lye soap. Those folks had a hard life. I can remember my mother melting chunks of ice in a wash tub on a coal stove, and carrying in Daddy’s bank clothes from the clothes line that he wore in the coal mines and they would be frozen stiff. June deaths represented 5% of the year’s total, and meningitis deaths were a mere fraction of 1%. I saw four diseases in June represented for the first time in the year: Measles, Tetanus, Typhoid Fever, and Rickets. There were also an inordinate number of deaths by being hit by trains this month.
62 Total Deaths 36 Adults Not Meningitis Related 26 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were no meningitis related deaths in July. There was one death from Diphtheria. The total number of deaths represents about 7% of the deaths for the year.
64 Total Deaths 36 Adults Not meningitis Related 26 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were two meningitis deaths in August, one White and one Black, ages 11 months and four years respectively.
69 Total Deaths 37 Adults Not Meningitis Related 32 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were no deaths from meningitis in September. There was one death from scarlet fever and two from rickets. The total deaths that month were just under 8% of the yearly total of 884.
64 Total Deaths 42 Adults Not Meningitis Related 22 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were no deaths from Spinal Meningitis in the month of October. There was a very large number of mining accident deaths, mostly from slate falls. October’s deaths were approximately 6% of the deaths for the year.
60 Total Deaths 42 Adults Not Meningitis Related 18 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were no deaths from spinal meningitis in November. Two children died from childhood diseases of the time; one death from whooping cough and one from diphtheria. One child died from rheumatic fever. The deaths for November were just over 6% of the year’s total.
81 Total Deaths 52 Adults Not Meningitis Related 26 Children Not Meningitis Related
There were three deaths from meningitis in December; one adult and two children, two of whom had either tuberculosis or pneumonia. There were three deaths from diphtheria, one death from typhoid fever, and one death from rheumatic fever. December deaths were approximately 9% of the year’s total.
Many deaths, especially in children, were due to malnutrition and flu, along with premature births which were numerous and a window on the health of the mothers. Most adult deaths from illness and disease were due to pneumonia and tuberculosis. Most accidental deaths were due to mining accidents and gun shot wounds, with deaths from drowning, burns, and falls also being relatively high in number compared to the totals. Many of the deaths caused by illness and disease were probably due to the living conditions of that time and lack of medical care, as well as malnutrition which was listed as a secondary cause on many death records. I can personally remember drafts coming in through walls, ceilings and floors of coal camp company houses that we lived in when I was a child growing up in McDowell Co. Our walls were covered with tattered, faded floral wall paper, newsprint, and pictures of Jesus and FDR.
In searching through the death record images for victims of
spinal meningitis, I was surprised to see three young children had died from
syphilis, no doubt born with it from the mother. There was, what seems to me, to be a large number
of adult deaths from this sexually transmitted disease considering the
demographics of this relatively sparsely populated county. There were a large number of deaths due to
coal mining accidents which one would expect, and an equally large number of
gun shot wounds, which one would not expect.
There were deaths from mining accidents, mostly slate falls, in every
month. The most intriguing record was a hitchhiker
I may have made mistakes, and probably did. This was not a
scientific study; just a curious fellow researcher interested in the impact of
contagious diseases in rural
1. 2. 3.
Bob & Goldie Stanley Robert Stanley “Junior” Eleanor Stanley “Tiny”
… and me in May, 2006