Image: 19th Century Doctor’s Bag from:
Australian Family Physician, Evolution of General Practice, Volume 45, No. 9, September 2016, pp. 636-638.
The image is of the Gladstone Bag, which was created in the mid-nineteenth century by G. J. Beard, a London leather dealer. Beard named the bag after a man he thought highly of: Prime Minister William Gladstone. It was used by physicians for nearly a century. (Note: Lydia’s medical bag would not look quite so old!)
When writing the Saint Maggie series, which takes place over a number of years, I realized that the characters could not remain stagnant. They need to grow. This is especially true of Maggie’s daughters. When we first meet them in Saint Maggie, Frances (aka Frankie) is 14 and Lydia is 18.
The next two blogs will take a look at Lydia, Maggie’s eldest daughter.
Lydia is calm, caring, considerate, and possesses an interest in all things medical. In fact, she is the boarding house’s “nurse.” In 1860, caring for the ill in one’s family, or in Maggie’s case the boarding house “family,” was a woman’s job. Women saw to their loved ones’ injuries and illnesses and learned how to diagnose and treat them. When something was beyond their capabilities, they called for the town’s doctor.
Lydia is a girl taking her first steps into womanhood. In fact, when she makes her entrance in Saint Maggie, she is already involved in household medicine. She has been caring for James “Grandpa” O’Reilly, who is in bed with a cold. Throughout the book we see her carry out this familial vocation and toward the end of the book she even assists Dr. Fred Lightner, the town’s doctor, when a surgery needs to be performed. As a result, Lydia eventually is accepted as one of Dr. Lightner’s apprentices.
But she also is a blossoming young woman. Lydia is in a relationship with Edgar Lape, a struggling young lawyer who lives in the boarding house. Under normal circumstances, they would have had a long period of courtship and engagement. However, this is cut short by the threat of Civil War, and by the knowledge that, once the war starts, Edgar is likely to enlist or be drafted. With that in mind, the young couple decide to marry sooner rather than later. Fortunately, Maggie understands the situation, and the two are wed on 22 December 1860.
Lydia and Edgar are able to have a little over a year and half together, and then (as related in the novella, The Enlistment) Edgar joins the New Jersey 15th Volunteers and goes off to war in August of 1862.
In the second book in the series, Walk by Faith, things change drastically for Lydia and she is propelled headfirst into adulthood.
While Edgar is away, the boarding house family moves to Gettysburg, a major upheaval for them since the move comes on the heels of a threat to the family’s lives. Once they have settled in Eli’s old family house, Lydia seeks and finds a job as a midwife under the tutelage of Adela Edler.
She naturally worries about Edgar. And her concern for him is evident in her letters. However, all the loving letters and prayers in the world cannot stop Edgar from being wounded during a battle in Chancellorsville, Virginia. He dies in a field hospital on 5 May 1863, and he and Lydia never have the opportunity to see each other again. To her great sadness, he even is buried in Virginia. Embalming was a new process in the 1860s and an expensive one. Only people with money could afford to have a loved one embalmed and sent home in a coffin for burial in the family plot. And Lydia and her family do not have much money.
Now Lydia is a widow and without a child to comfort her and remind her of her husband. All she has of him is their wedding photo, his small Bible, and his deathbed words to her, dictated to her stepfather, Eli Smith, who was present at his death.
But this young woman is made of stout stuff. While she grieves deeply, she continues to work as a midwife. Two months after her husband’s death, when the war comes to Gettysburg, she (like many women there) is thrust into caring for soldiers who have been wounded in the battle. But Lydia goes one step above caring for casualties and, having assisted in surgeries with Dr. Lightner, she tries save soldiers' lives by amputating festering leg and arm wounds.
In the third book, A Time to Heal, the battle of Gettysburg is over, and the USA is in control of the town. Within a very short time, the military organizes and constructs a medical tent city called Camp Letterman General Hospital. Plans then are made to move the wounded from private homes and public buildings to the camp, where they will continue to be cared for.
And that is how Captain Philip Frost, whose job it is to evaluate patients and facilitate their removal to the temporary hospital, shows up at old Smith house. As he explains what he is charged to do, Philip finds himself attracted to Lydia. And why not? She is a capable physician, medically knowledgeable, compassionate, and a handsome woman to boot. What he doesn’t know is that she is in the early stages of mourning. So, even though she notices Philip’s interest, she makes it known that she is a recent widow and cannot return his attentions.
Just the same, sparks do fly between the couple – including some rather contentious ones, which develop from a serious misunderstanding over an act of kindness that technically is against the law. By the end of the book, though, Philip and Lydia are reconciled, parting as friends and agreeing to correspond with each other as such.
Her storyline will continue on Saturday.
Until then, be brave. Be kind. Stay strong.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder