Doris Hunt (1900): Illness, Health and Disability – Writing Lives

Doris Hunt (1900): Illness, Health and Disability

The prospect of illness was not uncommon within the Hunt household. It inevitably ended in tragedy.

The first instance was when Doris and her sisters fell ill with measles and then whooping cough. Her youngest sister, who was just a baby at the time, unfortunately did not recover and passed away. Doris describes this as a tragedy: ‘I could not accept the fact that I would never see her again, and kept dreaming that she was still alive’ (p3).

The next tragedy, Doris tells us, ‘was to alter the whole of our lives’ (p3). It began from something as simple as her father’s fractured ankle. She exclaimed that ‘such insignificant causes can have such wide-spreading effects on several lives’ (p3). The fracture never really healed and ‘indirectly was the cause of his death only three years later’(p3). When the family moved to Rainsough, her father had a job in Prestwich. At this time he walked on crutches due to his ankle and in bad weather he was unable ‘to hold an umbrella and manipulate crutches’ so ‘he often came home drenched to the skin, to the further detriment of his health’ (p3).

Man on crutches, 1900

In 1908, the Hunt family left Manchester and moved to Littleborough, a Lancashire mill town, where her father had a job managing an indigo-dying factory. However, this did not last long as his ‘health was gradually deteriorating- he was coughing a lot’ (p4) . At this point Doris claims that she did not realise just how seriously ill her father was. Perhaps because all she knew of during her childhood was her father being ill, she didn’t notice the decline. Despite having developed ‘T.B. of the Lungs, or ‘Phthisis’ and coughing more than ever he still refused to ‘stay in bed or even at home and continued to travel until within a fortnight of his death’ (p3). Whilst travelling, he was told ‘in no uncertain terms, that he was on his death bed’ (p3).

At this time, 1910, it was the Pre-Welfare State and ‘when not working there was no money’ (p3). The state provided no support. Doris claims that although her father knew he was dying, to add to his suffering was mental agony. The pain of ‘knowing that he was leaving a wife and four children absolutely unprovided for’ would have been a strong blow to the ego of the typical bread winner in the 20th Century. As Doris says, ‘No one expects to die at 35’ (p5).

Doris refers to her fathers death as the ‘end of another era in my life’ (p5). The family dynamic changed and everyone had to adapt. Doris’s mother turned her hand to many trades including dressmaking, teaching dressmaking and hairdressing. Doris took on more responsibility, looking after her sisters whilst her mother was working and also working herself to contribute to the family income. The biggest adaptation of all was Doris’s mother taking in a lodger in the spare room.

Victorian window advert for lodgers -1895

Lodgers were often found living with working class families during this period. It is evident that with the recent loss of her husband, Doris’s mother could benefit from the income of having a lodger. This idea is reinforced by Vicky Holmes as she states that ‘at times of financial strain, such as widowhood, accommodating a lodger provided the householder with a livelihood, or , at least an income’ (Holmes, 2014, 315). Davidoff claims that taking in a lodger ‘was a sign that the family could no longer be kept private’. It could be interpreted as trading your privacy for an increase in income. (Davidoff, 1979, 69).

Doris described the lodger to be ‘most charming’ so it was no surprise to her that ‘situated as he was, that my mother married him when he asked her’ (p6). Vicky Holmes informs us that ‘it was not unusual for a companionate relationship to develop between lodgers and ladies’ (Holmes, 2014, 328). As convenient as her mother’s new marriage may have seemed Doris and her family discover that their new step father was fond of a drink and their ‘mothers life was no easier than before’ (p6).


428 HUNT, Doris, Untitled, TS, pp.14 (c.5,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Holmes, Vicky. ‘Accommodating the Lodger: The Domestic Arrangements of Lodgers in Working Class Dwellings in a Victorian Provincial Town’, Journal of Victorian Culture Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2014

Leonore Davidoff, ‘The Separation of Home and Work? Landladies and Lodgers in Nineteenth- and Twentieth Century England, in Fit Work for Women, ed. by Sandra Burman (Croom Helm, 1979), pp. 64-97


Man on crutches- 1900:

Victorian Window advertisement for lodgers- 1895 : 

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