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Friday February 24, 2017
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Ague in Ann Arbor

 

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Farmers scheduled their lives around the sickness, saving strenuous tasks like plowing for "well" days. On "ague" days, even professionals found it hard to work, as a justice of the peace learned when he was struck by the fever when he was scheduled to officiate at a wedding. "In the morning he attempted to fortify himself by taking a large dose of quinine and at noon repeated the precaution by taking a larger dose, and by the time the wedding party arrived, the justice was delirious," noted the 1880 Michigan Historical Collections. The official was "taken to the well and drenched with cold water, and for a short time, consciousness returned, and seizing that moment the parties were married."

Made from the bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree, quinine subdued malaria's worst symptoms. But for most of the nineteenth century it remained scarce and expensive, so people tried all kinds of alternatives. One Michigan doctor wrote that he found "a tea or decoction made from the poplar and iron wood bark to answer a very good purpose." The same physician also made a "cure" with tarry extract of butternut bark--though he admitted that patients who tried it often told him "that they much preferred the disease to the remedy."

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