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Health in the 1920s

The school nurse told me I had ringworm and an area of my hair had to be cut away.

All the families round us were poor, some were much worse off than we were. Sickness and malnutrition were rife. A family who lived right opposite us were all suffering with TB (tuberculosis). They had three children. The father hadn’t worked for years because of his ill-health. Then, one by one, the children died. I used to play with the eldest girl, in fact she was my best friend, but she died too. The mother was so upset at losing her family she committed suicide, she put her head in the gas oven. The whole neighbourhood was shocked.

When I was very young, I’ve been told, I had lovely hair of a golden brown colour with a reddish tint that was naturally curly. Every night my mother would tie rags in it so that every morning my hair was in ringlets and it was much admired, but then something awful happened. I caught ringworm from someone. The school nurse used to examine our heads every week because there were lots of head lice around and she told me I had ringworm and an area of my hair had to be cut away. She did it immediately and when I got home my mother was horrified, I had a bald patch.

She went to school the next day to play war with the Nurse, but she was told it had to be done to prevent it spreading. Well, my mother was so annoyed about it that she decided to cut the rest of my hair off, she said the bald patch wouldn’t be quite so noticeable if my hair was very short, so that’s what she did. I was very embarrassed, as I had to wear a hat all the time, even in the classroom. After a few weeks the ringworm had gone away and my hair started growing again, but it grew in straight, I never had curly hair again.

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