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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. E. Nipher   10 September 1877

Washington University | St. Louis—

Sept 10 1877.

Charles Darwin Esq.

My Dear Sir:

You may remember that I wrote you sometime ago, in regard to the prenatal influence of the mother upon her offspring.1 Another case has just come under my notice, which I will relate.

Last week my wife and her mother visited the family of Rev. J. M. Williams—of West Liberty—Muscatine Co. Iowa.2 One of his children now two years old, was observed to vomit his food very soon after eating, and my wife remarked that his symptoms were exactly like those of a child whom she had formerly known in Atalissa, Iowa, who had swallowed a portion of concentrated lye, and who died of starvation, because it could not retain food.

The mother then informed them that while living in Beatrice, Nebraska, a child who had swallowed concentrated lye, and who was thus starving, used to come to their house, previous to the birth of her child—that she had always felt sorry for it, but tried to keep from worrying about it, as she feared its effect upon her unborn child.

The parents are both healthy, as are two children born before the one of whom I write. One born since seems all right, except that the cords on one side of the neck are slightly contracted, drawing the head out of its proper position—

I should add that the mother thinks that the malady of her child was caused by the sympathy which she felt for the starving child, although, of course, it may be due to other causes—

Very truly yours— | Francis E. Nipher—


See Correspondence vol. 22, letters from F. E. Nipher, 10 November 1874 and 11 December 1874.
Sarah Matilda Nipher and her mother, Grace Aikins, were from Atalissa, Muscatine County, Iowa. J. Madison Williams was minister at the Church of the Disciples of Christ, West Liberty, Muscatine County, Iowa (History of Muscatine County, p. 555).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

History of Muscatine County: The history of Muscatine County, Iowa, containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, &c., biographical sketches of citizens, war record of its volunteers in the late rebellion, general and local statistics, portraits of early settlers and prominent men, history of the Northwest, history of Iowa, map of Muscatine County, constitution of the United States, miscellaneous matters, &c., &c. Chicago: Western Historical Company. 1879.


Cites another example of inheritance of maternal impressions.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Eugene Nipher
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Washington University, St Louis
Source of text
DAR 172: 71
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11133,” accessed on 16 October 2021,