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In 1955 Elda G. was strictly forbidden from consuming vinegar. Her mother
was convinced that vinegar would aggravate her daughter’s tuberculosis. Re-
signedly, Elda acceded to this prohibition, and time and again she would hear
her mother asking God to move the disease from Elda’s body to her own.
Afraid the prayers would be heeded, Elda watched her mother closely, scru-
tinized how much and what she ate, whether she coughed, spit, or had fever.
She observed her mother’s hygiene habits, hoping she would get enough rest
and go out into the fresh air of the backyard.
Elda’s reactions show how—and for how long—old and new ways of deal-
ing with tuberculosis coexisted in the mid- 1950s, after the widespread use of
antibiotics had transformed it, following a very slow decline over the course of
the first half of the twentieth century, into a controllable disease. On the one
hand, Elda’s mother’s belief in the harmful effects of vinegar had been around
since the early nineteenth century; it was based on the image of the romantic
consumptive girl who was always consuming vinegar in order to look paler.
On the other, Elda’s reaction shows that many tenets of the hygienic antituber-
culosis code—which had been spread for decades by various means, including
school campaigns, the radio, newspapers, and billboards—had had an impact
on society.
However, acceptance of the code was far from absolute. Much evidence
suggests the limitations of the effort to model an infinite number of daily life
habits. Recommendations on how, where, and when to kiss were not as ob-
served as antituberculosis crusaders had wished. People kept spitting on the
ground, despite the street signs forbidding it. Sharing straws while sipping
mate remained an everyday practice. For awhile many parents ignored the
calls to give their children the bcg vaccination because they didn’t want to ex-
pose them to alien substances. Not many pregnant women with tuberculosis
epilogue
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