Some Observations On Responses To Disease Epidemics In The United States In The Eighteenth And Nineteenth Centuries

Disease epidemics are not new to the American scene.  In fact, of all the historic threats to national and local security, they are the type with which we probably have the most experience.  During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, the United States faced and dealt with outbreaks of scarlet fever, yellow fever, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, and influenza.  And while the innovations of medical science were often insufficient to banish these plagues, the people handled such infections with the tools available at their disposal.  National economic life did not grind to a halt; communities were not paralyzed by fear; the press did not consciously stoke the flames of hysteria; and the political system did not descend into bickering, factionalism and recrimination.  Diseases were understood to be part of the natural order of things, to be confronted with resolution and grim determination while the rhythms of life continued to strum.

Continue reading