Mary Greene was the first daughter of Michael and Bridget (Sheehan) Greene. Born in Worcester on 8 May, 1896, she died just a little over a year later, on 7 August, 1897. According to the Worcester death registry, the cause of death was “Cholera Infantum”. You might think that Cholera Infantum is just plain cholera when it infects a child, but in fact it was a specific disease, also called “Summer Complaint”, that could reach epidemic proportions among babies and very young children, especially in the overcrowded tenements of the late 19th century.
If you Google “Cholera Infantum”, you will eventually come across references to Pepto-Bismol. That’s because Pepto-Bismol was originally a concoction called “Bismosal Mixture Cholera Infantum”, which was specifically aimed at treating this disease.
This is from the Pepto-Bismol History Page:
Today, we think of how Pepto-Bismol soothes the digestive system after we’ve overindulged at a meal or eaten unfamiliar foods while traveling. But in its early days, Pepto-Bismol did more than comfort; it actually helped treat a very serious illness.
The medicine we now call Pepto-Bismol was originally developed at the start of the 20th century, when high standards of hygiene and sanitation weren’t as widespread as today. Looking to cure a frightening disease called “cholera infantum,” which struck infants suddenly, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes death, a doctor concocted a formula in his home that proved effective against these symptoms. The formula was made from pepsin, bismuth salicylate, zinc salts, salol, and oil of wintergreen, along with a colorant to make it pink, and he called it Mixture Cholera Infantum. (Researchers would later learn that cholera infantum was caused by a bacterial infection, treatable with antibiotics.)
Little Mary succumbed to the disease before Pepto-Bismol, and long before antibiotics. And she wasn’t the only one- of the twenty or so names on the same page of the death register, four were infants who died from Cholera Infantum.