Yankee Destinies: The Lives of Ordinary Nineteenth-Century Bostonians

By Peter R. Knights | Go to book overview

6
Death

Finis origine pendet. -Motto on the seal of Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. 1

Exeunt omnes.

-Stage direction

If they had been allowed to choose, most sample members probably would have died in bed at home, surrounded by supportive relatives, having attained a great age. Most of them did so; only a tiny minority died in hospitals, cared for by strangers, and most who did die in institutions were said to have been insane. Let us triage the topic of death into when, where, and how. Of these, the first two are much easier to specify than the third, for medicine was still an inexact science in the late nineteenth century, and most stated causes of death were little better than guesses. 2


Length of Life

Today we learn that an individual's life expectancy is 70, 75, or even 80 years--understood as expectation of life at birth. Estimates for the mid-nineteenth century suggest that the expectation of life at, say, age 40 in Massachusetts as of 1850 was 27.9 years for men and 29.8 years for women. By 1949-51, these figures had risen to only 30.7 and 35.2, respectively. Corresponding figures for age 0 (at birth) were 38.3 and 40.5 in 1850, but 66.7 and 72.1 in 1949-51. 3 A century's progress in medicine had succeeded

-151-

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Yankee Destinies: The Lives of Ordinary Nineteenth-Century Bostonians
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Maps xv
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Origins 13
  • 2 - Marriage and Children 37
  • 3 - Making a Living 63
  • 4 - Perils of Everyday Life 101
  • 5 - Leaving Boston 125
  • 6 - Death 151
  • Appendix a Methods and Sources 171
  • Appendix B Unconsidered Trifles 201
  • Appendix C Missing Sample Members 207
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 241
  • Index 267
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