Posts Tagged ‘homesickness’

Homesick Blues

On July 29, 1898, a string of headlines in The New York Times read:

A DEATH BY NOSTALGIA /  The Case of Private Atkins, Who Died of Homesickness, Regarded as Remarkable /  One of the Rarest of Diseases / Dr. E. C. Spitzka . . .  Says It Is Next to Impossible for an American to Have It

Magritte Homesickness

The report goes on to explain that this “disease, which, translated into English, is homesickness, is regarded as so rare, especially among Americans, that” the case of this soldier stationed in Santiago, Cuba, “is causing considerable comment among physicians. According to a medical authority, ‘nostalgia is a form of melancholy brought about by an unsatisfied longing for home or home surroundings . . . and may even lead [through digestive problems, fever, and general debility] to . . .  death’.”

Contrary to the surprised tone of this 1898 report, earlier cases of death by homesickness had, in fact, been reported. For example, a short item in the January 19, 1871 Times reads: “A Virginia girl of sixteen has died of home-sickness at a Richmond boarding school.”  Indeed, worries about homesickness and its debilitating effects were common during the Civil War and earlier as described by Susan J. Matt in her new book, Homesickness: An American History.


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