In the late 18th century, violent yellow fever epidemics broke out in Philadelphia. The first and most significant epidemic was in 1793 which resulted in nearly 5,000 deaths and 200 orphaned. The epidemic reappeared almost annually through the end of the decade each time taking thousands of victims and baffling the community. The individuals who endured the yellow fever epidemics in Philadelphia during the late 18th century interpreted each occasion of the pestilence in manners which consistently reflected their personal and cultural ideological values and experiences. This is not a surprising claim, but it is one that has been underappreciated in historical interpretation. By probing into the intricacies and private sentiments related on the pages of diaries and poured out in intimate or official correspondences, it is my intent to reveal the human experiences of the Yellow Fever. The reactions to the disease in these documents encompass the moral complexities behind expressions of emotions and reveal significant patterns. By examining the reactions of the epidemic sufferers and survivors, history learns more about the emotional culture of Philadelphia and the surrounding areas and by extension the culture of the early republic.
Stephanie Schmeling, ’09 Denver, CO
Sponsor: M. Philip Lucas