Thursday, July 12, 2018

Never Jump to Conclusions–Klutzy Child or Something Else?

While conducting research in Iowa newspapers on Sylvia Caroline Dunbar, I encountered a second Sylvia Dunbar. This Sylvia Alice Dunbar was born 1894 in Malvern, Mills County, Iowa. to James Thomas Dunbar and Cynthia Marilla Hoyt and appears to be unrelated to my subject. But she left small trail of vignettes in the local newspapers.

  • In June 1897, “Little Sylvia Dunbar stepped on a garden rake” which went through part of her heel. This happened on Wednesday but she was apparently able to wear her shoes on Sunday.1
  • In September 1897, “Little Sylvia Dunbar fell on an ax”.  She had a deep gash right next to her spine but despite the close call was all right. 2
  • In August 1903, Sylvia “collided with a wire clothes line”. The force threw her unconscious to the ground. 3

As I read these three posts, my first thought was that this child was a klutz and she could have been a member of my klutzy family.  I posted these tidbits on a Facebook group which lead to an interesting discussion.

The most common response was questioning Sylvia’s vision and whether or not she might have needed glasses. The earliest school vision screening programs only started in 18994 so unless her parents were particularly aware of any vision problems, this could definitely be true. I wasn’t able to find in pictures of Sylvia to see if she wore glasses at any point in her life.

Another person suggested this might have been a cover up of abuse. Since at least one of the accidents happened at the home of another person, fortunately this seems unlikely.

Another suggestion was some type of disease that caused balance problems. Interestingly enough, a news article from April 1906 suggests this could be possible.

“Sylvia Dunbar has been suffering with inflamatary (sic) rheumatism the past week.”5

Sylvia would have been 12 at this time. It’s unclear what type of illness this refers to and there’s no further hints found in newspaper articles. But this could very well have been a condition that affected her balance and/or walking ability and caused these accidents.

Sometime in the next few years, the family packed up and moved to Saskatchewan.  It appears as though Sylvia married and had children.

We’ll never know what caused these three accidents – childhood illness, poor vision, klutzy play or something else? But, it reminded me that one should always keep digging and never jump to conclusions!



1 “North Grove,” Malvern (Iowa) Leader, 24 June 1897, p. 7, col. 3; image copy, Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com: accessed 12 July 2018).

2 “North Grove,” Malvern (Iowa) Leader, 30 September 1897, p. 5, col. 4; image copy, Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com: accessed 12 July 2018).

3 “North Grove,” Glenwood (Iowa) Opinion, 20 August 1903, p. 10, col. 2; image copy, Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com: accessed 12 July 2018).

4 Tina M. Appelboom, “History of Vision Screening,” Journal of School Health, 55 (April 1985): 138-141.

5 “North Grove,” Malvern (Iowa) Leader, 26 April 1906, p. 6, col. 5; image  copy, Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com: accessed 12 July 2018).