Date of Graduation

12-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Freddy C. Dominguez

Committee Member

Trish Starks

Second Committee Member

Ren Pepitone

Keywords

blood, consumption, medical history, tuberculosis, vampires, victorian

Abstract

During the nineteenth century burgeoning cities in the United States saw the spread of disease. Most common among all parts of society was tuberculosis or as it was commonly known at the time, consumption. The most terrifying aspect of consumption was that it could attack anyone at any time and no cure existed. The poetic image of a red stained handkerchief was a death sentence. The common cure was to seek fresh air in a warmer climate. However, for some Americans an experimental cure seemed hopeful and easily accessible, drinking blood. According to many newspaper accounts consumptive victims were not only participating in this cure but finding results. Because physicians were not able to cure consumption, desperate victims turned to an unlikely cure from an unlikely source, the butcher, a trade worker.

The grotesque imagery of a pale, emaciated consumptive victim drinking blood from a freshly slaughtered animal conjures one image strongly, that of a vampire. These blood drinking consumptives were indeed compared to vampires and feared by both the press and parts of the medical community. Using romantic literature of the time and of the future a strong correlation is found between these blood drinking consumptives and the western vampire character we are so familiar with today.

Consumptives’ doubts that the medical community could offer anything to save them, led to drastic decisions being made in regards to their health. Newspaper accounts containing interviews with consumptives, butchers, and medical men were heavily drawn on to answer questions of why this cure was tried and reactions to the cure. Medical journals and romantic literature were also investigated in order to examine the risks that were believed to accompany this cure. These sources together provide a complete picture of just how desperate these people were to try this blood cure.

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