Sometimes in history there’s a backstory as interesting as the main story.
First, the main story, about a health problem in the fields of early 20th century San Diego County.
“The Harvest Bug That Has A Vicious Bite,” was the title of a short article in the San Diego Union October 19, 1919.
The bug, also called a mower’s mite, was very prevalent on farms at the time, mostly found in hay. “Men working about the barns, feeding stock, have been badly bitten,” the article read. “The insect burrows under the skin and makes an extremely itchy area surrounding the point of entrance.”
“For a time,” according to the article, “these mites were so bothersome that they would incapacitate a man. The itching made sleep impossible and the resulting scratching did not improve conditions.”
But a local doctor, who also happened to be a rancher, found a rough but effective cure.
“Dr. Nina Allen Gird of Bonsall, California, in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association, tells how, having tried all the remedies spoken of in available books, to no relief, she used kerosene to remove some very greasy ointment which had been applied with no results. Immediate relief followed the application of the kerosene.”
The article went on to say that Dr. Gird found “if a person washed the parts affected with a cloth wet in kerosene as soon as the first itching was noticed, or before the mite had penetrated the flesh deeply, the insect was killed and no further trouble resulted.”
Nina Allen, a native of Ohio, had earned a medical degree from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve) in 1910 and practiced medicine for a time in Cleveland. She came to Fallbrook in 1912 and set up a medical practice there.
Among Dr. Allen’s patients were two elderly Fallbrook pioneers in their late eighties, Henry and Martha Gird, whom she cared for until their deaths in 1913. In 1914 Dr. Allen married Henry and Martha’s son Will Gird.
After the marriage, Nina’s medical practice appears to have been limited to her own family. In the 1920 United States Census, on the line on which her name appears, the column for “Occupation” is marked, “None.”
But the 1919 article shows she obviously tried to continue her healing practice, both as a partner in her husband’s ranch, and, through her letter to the AMA, to the general public.
Over the years, as a clerk of the Bonsall school board and a Red Cross volunteer, she would continue to contribute to the health and welfare of her community, while raising a family and helping run a cattle and horse ranching operation.
After the death of her husband in 1946, Nina Allen Gird sold the ranch and moved to the city, but she stayed active in charitable and civic work. Over the decades until just a few years before her death at the age of 87 in 1972, she wrote numerous letters to the editor of the Union on subjects such as childhood nutrition, recreation and education.
Good work, Doctor.
Sources for this post included the archives of the Fallbrook Historical Society, interviews with Gird family members, and Ronald V. May, RPA.
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