Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Laura AmySchlitz

Danielle Dumont 

Celiac Disease and Diet Reform

The Female Struggle for Autonomy in Laura Amy Schlitzís Works

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, food and health played very important roles in peopleís lives. The foods people ate were eaten for a variety of reasons and some people's bodies reacted differently to foods, causing disease. In the nineteenth century, food caused both harmful and helpful effects on people's bodies.Few treatment options existed, leaving people to suffer and sometimes even die. Diet reformers such as American vegetarian Sylvester Graham, English physician Samuel Gee, and French physician Francois Broussais tried to figure out the connection between sickness and food. Scientists and doctors conducted research to find out why some peopleís bodies became sick when certain foods were eaten. What was revealed was that the intestines often fired an inflammatory response when the food was rejected. Because the body could not accept these foods it attacked itself. Because of the body reacting the way it did, scientists and doctors were able to discover autoimmune disorders.

Just as doctors worked to develop treatments to alleviate the suffering from food-related diseases, the female protagonists of Laura Amy Schlitzís young adult novels work to secure freedom in their own lives. For example, Joan of The Hired Girl seeks freedom from the constricting environment of her home at Pemberley Farm. Joan changes her name and lies about her age so she has a better chance of securing a job as a hired girl. While Joan escapes to Baltimore earning six dollars a week, she vigorously writes in her journal, sharing her dreams of becoming a gentlewoman with a successful job and a family. Ultimately, Joan is forced to face her past when the Rosenbachs give her an ultimatum: she must reconnect with her father or sacrifice the future that the Rosenbachs are offering her. In the end, Joan enrollsin school, which helps her to achieve her ultimate dream of becoming an educated and independent woman.

Major Works Consulted:

Ali, Naheed. Understanding Celiac Disease: An Introduction for Patients and Caregivers.Durham and London: Duke UP, 2013.
Biltekoff, Charlotte. Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food & Health.Duke UP, 2013.
Schlitz, Laura Amy.A Drowned Maiden's Hair. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2006. ---.The Hired Girl. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2015.
Photo Credit: "Bing." Laura Amy Schlitz. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.