Quarantine and Disease Control in America Series

While the world continues efforts to distance itself from the ravages of COVID 19, this experience is not as unique as we may have previously believed.  Deadly epidemics have been challenging the populace since the earliest settlers came to American shores. You can research and read first-hand accounts of American infectious diseases using Accessible Archives’ latest collection: Quarantine and Infectious Disease Control in America Series.

  • PART I: Newspapers, 1736-1922
  • PART II: Books, 1823-1928

Newspapers – 1736-1922

The rich newspaper assemblage found in Part I will give researchers an unparalleled look at administrative and community responses to diseases devastating to public health as found in the press from colonial America through World War I. This database provides a vivid picture ripe for essential historic exploration to compare past outbreaks, civilian and governmental reactions, and disease control practices to what is happening today.

Quarantine and Disease Control in America SeriesWith all infectious diseases, quarantine and masks were historically the most effective preventatives for widespread deterrence. Recognition that proper sanitation was essential to protect everyone from contagion took place in the 19th century. Community leaders began to understand that they needed to be responsive to protect themselves and their citizens from potential death.

Vaccines were developed slowly and took many years to effectively stop contagion.

In the 1600s smallpox and diphtheria spread and killed many Pilgrims as well as Native Americans. In the late 18th century, the smallpox vaccine was the first inoculation to be developed in this country.

Even though diphtheria was around for over a thousand years, it was not even named until the early nineteenth century. Seventy years later the cause, a bacterium, was identified; this subsequently encouraged creation of a vaccine.

Around the time control efforts to stop the spread of smallpox were starting to work, yellow fever was introduced into the country from the Caribbean. Philadelphia saw the brunt of the disease causing the government to set up the first American isolation wards, or quarantine stations as they were called, in 1798 to assist in fighting this epidemic. Today the disease has been virtually eradicated.

Cholera, tuberculosis, typhus and typhoid fever have also inflicted tremendous pain on generations of the American public before containment.

Other infectious diseases are still challenging. Even though measles is now not considered fatal, it was centuries before a vaccine could be developed to insure its decline. Without inoculation, influenza affected and killed millions throughout history.

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Books – 1823-1928

Part II: Books, 1823-1928 allows users access to monographs and county histories and the wealth of details these resources can provide on many aspects of public health and contagious diseases. Searches will retrieve results from books published in the 19th century through World War I.

In the early years of America, state and local municipalities controlled many aspects of infectious disease control but worked with the federal government on enforcement and appropriations. Even so, national laws were also critical to saving lives. The development of public and private cooperation can be traced in this rich database.

With all infectious diseases, before vaccines could be developed, quarantine and masks were the most effective preventatives for widespread deterrence. Recognition that proper sanitation was essential to protect everyone from contagion took place in the 19th century. Community leaders began to understand that they needed to be responsive to protect themselves and their citizens from potential death. With the availability of much local information, you will be able to discover details of early quarantine and sanitation practices in cities and towns across the country.

Civil war materials invite researchers to review a variety of perspectives (soldiers, military leaders, and the community) using letters, regimental histories, speeches, essays, and more. During this period infectious diseases such as pneumonia, dysentery, cholera, killed more soldiers than combat did.

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The Browse and/or Search links below are for visitors on networks with institutional access to this collection. Individuals with personal subscriptions must login at accessible.com to access the Browse and Search features.

Browse Search

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