The Language of Health

The Cope Evans collection offers a cache of information that is explored through the pages of this website. This page has been created from a textual analysis of a controlled set of letters and explores themes differently than other pages, and by doing so it attempts to launch a new phase of academic study using the Cope Evans collection. Additionally, the project is grounded in familial relationships in an attempt to balance the personal nature of the collection with the academic exploration of it.

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The Women

Letters written by Anna, Rachel, and Elizabeth were coded for a textual analysis to study how and when health is described. All mentions of health, data relating to family health, gender and names of those involved were coded. Two types of data captured how and when data was described, The Symptoms data includes everything that describes health such as symptoms and diagnoses. The Unwell data measure the number of times someone was described as having ill health. Both Symptoms and Unwell were classified by gender and the specificity. Although Specificity is defined in greater detail under the Specificity section, it was a way to classify the coded data to find additional trends.

In the letter collection of just over 400 letters, almost 300 of them mentioned health at least once. Many traumatic events in the family, such as the deaths of several members and prolonged illnesses were present in the letters, as well as more mundane and every-day discussions of health.

Click on the links below to read more about each woman!

Anna S. Brown Elizabeth S. Cope Rachel C. Evans


How these women describe health suggests gender differences that may reflect the different lives Cope men and women lived. The gendered language is represented by certain words which were used more frequently with women than with men and vice versa. Women were frequently described as having a cold, exhaustion, or fatigue while men were overwhelmingly diagnosed with fevers and physical illnesses. In "Symptoms by Gender" women had twice as many colds and three times the exhaustion while men had five times as many fevers and all of the broken bones. The differences in the data could be explained by the differences in daily activities.

For instance, the women lived in similar environments, often away from city life and spent more in their country estates. They tired from the heat and attributed colds to the state of the atmosphere. Their husbands and sons worked in the city and participated in more strenuous activities. This may be a gender difference in the way they thought about men’s health but it could also reflect that the men were away from the house and that was news that would interest the rest of the family. Francis R. Cope spent much of his professional life during the summer away from the family. During his retirement and declining health, he spent all of his time with Anna, and there was an increase in health related events during this time. This was a time when he was with his family for a prolonged period and therefore health was reported very regularly.

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Looking at the bar chart, the proportion of specific to vagye symptoms is consistently larger when the symptoms are about the men of the family than when they are about the women. Although the men have their fair share of unspecific symptoms, it is significantly less than the women. Men are mentioned less often than women in general, but they are more likely to have specific symptoms than their female relatives according to the data set. This is an interesting trend with a variety of possible explanations. Men of this time period were involved in physical activities, such as horse riding, sailing, and sports more often than the women. The men in this family travelled extensively and worked frequently, perhaps prompting them to hide their illnesses and injuries until they had progressed far enough to become easily diagnosable. It could be that the three Cope-Evans women writing these letters worried more about the health of the men, since the men were frequently away from home, than they did about their daughters who were often in their company.

Regardless of the causes, the data shows that the men’s health is usually more specific from the beginning of the time period studied, 1870, through the end, 1910. The letter volume increases slightly, but the women do not change the way they specify men’s and women’s health. Although the world was changing around these women, their conversations with one another about the family and the family’s health are an area of consistency.

Click to read more on Anna C. Evans "Specific" or "Unspecific"?


The scholarly discussion of gender and health of the Victorian Era may be reflected in the Cope women’s discussion of health. Health in the Victorian Era has been previously studied through health reform, mental health, and a significant amount of research on the way Victorian society projected women’s health as frail and feeble (Smith-Rosenberg, 183; Stratford, 102). Much of the gender differences can be explained by the physical separation of the men and women, yet it cannot be ignored that women were frequently described by different language than men. Women were exclusively described as fatigued and overwhelmingly suffering from a vague illness such as being ‘under the weather’ and sick. Similarly, women’s health after the birth of a child was carefully monitored and documented. Women were cautioned to maintain bed rest and consider their health until months after they had delivered a child. This phenomenon could reflect an expectation projected by society that women’s health was weak, especially around sexual reproduction (Smith-Rosenberg, 185-186). Because this form of data collection and textual analysis of women’s personal writing is largely unstudied, there is no precedent for studying specificity (Winkmann). Not only does the data confirm that women’s health was consistently described in vague terms, but the discussion of men’s health often avoided vague language. Between the years 1877 and 1888, there were only two vague symptoms describing men’s health. In many ways this data reinforces the typical themes of health and gender in the Victorian Era and encourages additional research to support stronger conclusions.

Further Research


The letters of Anna, Rachel, and Elizabeth were the medium through which they were able to keep in touch, maintain their relationships, and learn of their close family and friends. The language and prevalence of health, present in most of their letters, shows that health, and in particular ill health, was a subject that they were all deeply interested in and that was omnipresent in their lives. Studying the women’s letters and other personal writings offers a new perspective to study a woman’s role in society where public records may be lacking. Through the data and contextual support, the Cope women’s letters reveal that the different activities and the separation of the Cope men and women are reflected in their language of health. This wealthy and socially privileged family experienced health as one of the few traumas in their lives, and as such it is important to devote time and energy into studying it. It was important to them in their time, and therefore important to historians in ours. Further research into different families in different places and classes could add to and enhance that done with this important, but unique, family.