Social Distancing in the 19th Century

Patricia Grady Cox

March 30, 2020

National Park Sevice howling coyote

Courtesy of U.S. Park Service.

We’ve all been stressed this month. We’ll be even more stressed next month from the sound of it. Some of us, being in a group at high risk of severe complications should we contract COVID-19, have been isolating ourselves for weeks already.

That gives the writers among of us lots of time with no excuses. Time to write, plan, edit, and think. I find my thoughts wandering to the 1800s, when social distancing was pretty much the norm. Unless you lived in a city, you were isolated. Farms and ranches were spread out; visitors were few.


Esther Corbin would have lived in a cabin very similar to this. The nearest town was miles away. The nearest woman? More than 30 miles away.

In my first novel, Chasm Creek, Esther Corbin lives several miles outside of town. She’s alone with her four children. Her rotten husband has supposedly gone off to California, telling her he has business there. Will he return? She doesn’t know.

She’s already lost one child to a rattlesnake bite. She suffers terribly when her oldest son defies her wishes and goes on a quest to find help when a loved one is injured. There was no person or government office that could provide help in her times of need. She had to stand on her own two feet and deal with it.

Don’t we all know women like that? Who have more to deal with than we can possibly imagine, yet they stand strong and do what needs to be done. My thoughts are with all the single parents in particular, who are trying to work and now care for children that are home all day. And they often do this under the constant worry of losing their jobs.

In my second novel, Hellgate, Rose certainly has plenty to deal with. She’s not socially isolated. She wishes she were, I’m sure, as she’s held captive in an outlaw camp. Surrounded by vicious criminals, she is still willing to sacrifice herself to save the other women and children held captive in a caldera of cruelty. The outlaw camp called Hellgate is crowded, but Rose is still isolated – separated from her family and the life she had.

heroin-ad which appears to announce superiority to opium, morphine, codeine and other narcotics for treatment of coughs

This might not have cured anyone, but they probably didn’t care.

Thinking of Rose makes me think of all the women who are health care providers. They are working without the protective equipment they need, without the medical supplies they need to help their patients. I have not seen one of them on the news complaining about their plight. Their concern is for the patients. If they express any fear for themselves, it is only that if they get sick there will nobody to care for those patients. They certainly put the safety of others above their own – more so than any character in any novel of mine could think of doing. And many are isolating themselves from friends and family, fearful that they might transmit the virus.

It’s not easy to lose the lives we are used to, even if it’s temporary. It’s not easy to stay home. Alone. But we are lucky. We have telephones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, Facetime. We can not only talk instantly to our friends and family, we can see them. We can still attend our critique groups, our book discussions, and we can even watch movies online together. We may be isolated but we are not alone.

How do you think your current problems compare to those of 19th century women? What modern amenities are you grateful for or take for granted that were not even imagined back then?


If you are reading this between the dates April 1 through April 5, please go to Amazon and order your FREE Kindle copy of Chasm Creek. Just my way of helping with the stress and isolation. Travel back to 1880 Arizona Territory and worry about somebody else’s problems for a while!

Here’s the link:

Please visit my webpage for more information on my novels, anthologies, and more. Should you choose to subscribe to my monthly newsletter, you’ll receive a free PDF download of my anthology, Ramblings. Thanks!


  1. Dick Aldrich · · Reply

    Thanks Pat! Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Dick!


  2. Nice post! I feel lucky to live at a time when I can stay connected to people via phone and internet. Makes my days less socially isolated. Just need to not check the virus stats everyday….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Betty – Yes, the secret to happiness right now is turning off the TV and radio! I try to watch ONE news broadcast per day. It’s helping.


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