Mary Bradbury (b. circa 1900): Illness, Health and Disability

Mary Bradbury, Illness, Health and Disability

“The central question facing the historian of the working class family is how its reproductive functions, marriage and the raising of children, meshed with its productive functions, it’s role as the basic unit for acquiring and consuming the means”

For all the hard labour endured, and all the great memories Mary reminisces on, she experienced health problems when she was a small child. This included several accidents where she “senselessly risked her life” by experiencing adventures around the hebers of Cottardale. Mary’s “bad start in life”, suffering from “whooping cough” resulting in her father to “reportedly given her up as dead”.

It was only 1906 when whooping cough (Pertussis) was isolated as an illness, and it was in the 1944 when a vaccine was created for the illness. This highlights how fortunate Mary was, as a relatively untreatable illness received. Whilst her father was nursing her he stated “Prithee, Abram, dust’a think t’bairns worth fetching up.” Highlighting the hopeless situation the family were in, stating that she looked “nobut a puny miserable thing”. It is the brutal honesty which Mary uses to describe her suffering which strikes the reader to imagine what her and her family suffered. The relationship she had with her father and the single child in the family brings extra poignancy, depicting the emotions her mother and father must have experienced.

A child with whooping cough

Mary was a child who largely suffered, due to her own sense of adventure. She stated that once she “got on her own legs”, she “grew strong and healthy”. This only lead her to list out a number of accidents which she injured herself, such as: dropping boiling water on both her feet scalding them, fell out of an oak tree spraining her wrist in the process and falling off a high wall, stating that she landed on a jagged stone which “cut my left leg to the bone leaving a crescent hollow”. These are only a few of her accidents which lead to damaging her health, although she does not reflect upon them with regret as it appears she’s almost proud of her adventure scars, describing these injuries as “minor accidents”!

The last, and potentially the most severe injury Mary suffered was when she was riding a “tame cow the length of a narrow pasture” on their way home from school. Mary got on the cow’s back when it was lying down, and with a sudden, sharp movement “the bullock was instantly on its feet”, sending her flying through the air, grazing her head on a smooth rock. This however, did not cause the damage that it could as Mary states that she only “lay unconscious for “some little while”.

“And so my earliest childhood slipped away, and I came to no harm”

The danger which Mary seeks is danger that could not be recreated within today’s society. Her willingness to put her life in danger in order to fulfil her ambition to live is something which can be envied by modern day children. The trend now to protect children leads to them not experiencing wildlife and nature in the same way Mary has. However, the impact it has had on her health clearly has lead to the reasoning behind modern day parents and is a sign of the precautions which should be taken. A blend of the safety of today’s society along with the adventure and life experiences of Mary’s childhood would lead to the perfect, and happy childhood for all to reminisce on.


Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247

Bradbury, M. My End is My Beginning, Burnett Archive 2:871 1973

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