Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

View All Posts

Dec 19

The Mysterious Death of the Infirmary's Seamstress

Posted on December 19, 2019 at 8:43 AM by Elise Kelly

For the past several years, communities around the United States have been experiencing the crippling opioid crisis. Alarmingly, during the late nineteenth century, U.S. communities were facing frightening similarities and doctors then, as now, over-prescribed painkillers. In 1877, a young seamstress by the name of Isabell Low, died from an overdose of laudanum at the Greene County Infirmary (See Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 View of Greene County Exhibit Case (JPG)
Fig. 1 View of our current exhibit that features the history of the Greene County Infirmary and highlights the cold/flu season (Greene County Archives)

Laudanum is an alcoholic solution containing morphine, prepared from opium and formerly used as a narcotic painkiller. During the late nineteenth century, laudanum was a commonly prescribed treatment for conditions ranging from a cough to insomnia (See Fig. 2). It did relieve pain and coughing, however, it was highly addictive. Reported in the book, Heroin: It’s History, Pharmacology and Treatment, between half and two-thirds of opioid addicts during the late 1800s were females.

                                      Fig. 2 Bottle of Laudanum (JPG)
              Fig. 2 Bottle of Laudanum (Image courtesy of Cydone via Wikimedia Commons)

For several years up until her death in 1877, Isabell Low was employed as a seamstress at the Greene County Infirmary. During Isabell’s employment, laudanum was most likely a medication that was readily used at the infirmary. Upon Isabell’s death, a special telegram was sent to the Cincinnati Enquirer, reporting her passing (See Fig. 3). According to the article, it was supposed that Isabell wanted to take her own life. However, we speculate that perhaps she had a secret narcotic dependency?

Fig. 3 The_Cincinnati_Enquirer_Fri__Oct_19__1877 (JPG)
Fig. 3 Article regarding Isabell Low’s death. Cincinnati Enquirer, October 19, 1877 (

Isabell Low was born in Scotland to a Scottish father and an English mother around 1850. The family left Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century for Canada and adopted a second child named, Fannie (named after her adopted mother). Eventually the family made their way south and settled in the village of Yellow Springs. The patriarch of the family was a man named David Low (See Fig. 4).

You will notice in the 1870 census record that the age of the mother, Fannie Low, is listed as "22." We believe the census recorder made a mistake and that her age should be "32." In addition, you will notice that Isabell's age is listed as "20." it is possible that her mother had her at the extremely young age of twelve. You will also see in the 1870 census record that David was a tailor. He most likely taught Isabell the trade. Almost a year before Isabell’s untimely death, David became a naturalized citizen on October 3, 1876 (See Fig. 5).

Fig. 4 1870 Census (JPG)
Fig. 4 1870 Federal Census Record, Yellow Springs, Ohio (

Fig. 5 Naturalization (JPG)
Fig. 5 Probate Court Naturalization Index, David Low is listed. (Greene County Archives)

Sometime after 1880, David passed away. According to a 1901 census record, his wife, Fannie, had returned to Canada as a widower. There in the Ontario province, Fannie lived on a farm with either her sister’s family or family friends.

Fortunately, the laudanum crisis had significantly eased by 1906, when Congress passed the Food and Drug Act. After the passing of this legislation, it was required to list the addictive ingredients (such as opium and morphine) that were included in any medications. The supply of medications that were comprised of opium became tightly controlled.

Until Next Time!

Greene County Archives
Pappas, Stephanie. “Opioid Crisis Has Frightening Parallels to Drug Epidemic of Late 1800s.” LiveScience. September 29, 2017.
Wikimedia Commons


You must log in before leaving your comment