Plague Among the Magnolias: The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Mississippi

Overview

Deanne Stephens Nuwer explores the social, political, racial, and economic consequences of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Mississippi. A mild winter, a long spring, and a torrid summer produced conditions favoring the Aedes aegypti and spread of fever. In late July New Orleans newspapers reported the epidemic and upriver officials established checkpoints, but efforts at quarantine came too late. Yellow fever was developing by late July, and in August deaths were reported. With a fresh memory of an 1873 ...

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Overview

Deanne Stephens Nuwer explores the social, political, racial, and economic consequences of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Mississippi. A mild winter, a long spring, and a torrid summer produced conditions favoring the Aedes aegypti and spread of fever. In late July New Orleans newspapers reported the epidemic and upriver officials established checkpoints, but efforts at quarantine came too late. Yellow fever was developing by late July, and in August deaths were reported. With a fresh memory of an 1873 epidemic, thousands fled, some carrying the disease with them. The fever raged until mid-October, killing many: in Mississippi 28 percent of yellow fever victims died. Thought to be immune to the disease, blacks also contracted the fever in large numbers, although only 7 percent died. There is no consensus explaining the disparity, although it is possible that exposure to yellow fever in Africa provided blacks with inherited resistance.
 
Those fleeing the plague encountered quarantines throughout the South. Some were successful in keeping the disease from spreading, but most efforts failed. These hit hardest were towns along the railroads leading from the river, many of which experienced staggering losses.
 
Yellow fever’s impact, however, was not all negative. Many communities began sanitation reforms, and yellow fever did not again strike in epidemic proportions. Sewer systems and better water supply did wonders for public health in preventing cholera, dysentery, and other water-borne diseases. Mississippi also undertook an infrastructure leading to acceptance of national health care efforts: not an easy step for a militantly states' rights and racially reactionary society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Plague is a human story, as well as a socio-political and economic story that tells how Mississippi took a difficult step forward to better care for its citizens. I highly recommend this very well documented and highly readable work for high school, public, and academic libraries, and those special collections that focus on Mississippi history." --Ann Branton in Mississippi Library Association Book Reviews

"...Nuwer brings to the story a detailed, thick description of events in one state, solidly based in archival sources and local newspaper accounts. The ways in which life was completely disrupted become clear in the revelations of letters and diaries. It was not only sickness and death that wrecked the commonplace, but a lack of normal commodities such as food and clothing as trading stopped, the pervasive fear of neighbor and stranger as potential carriers of disease, and the conflicting desires to serve others and save oneself. Few books have depicted this disruption and panic as clearly as Newer’s account." --Margaret Humphreys, Duke University, in the Bulletin of the History of Medecine

“Nuwer's study provides important insight into the interrelatedness of political history and public health care and further reminds us that this connection did not begin in the twentieth, or twenty-first, century.”—Journal of Mississippi History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817316532
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 7/14/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,000,490
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Deanne Stephens Nuwer is on the faculty in the Department of History at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface ix

1 Mississippi in the 1870s 1

2 Yellow Fever's Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments 6

3 The Fever Arrives 19

4 Responses to Yellow Fever 48

5 The Human Suffering 73

6 Mississippi and the Affirmation of Antebellum Values 89

7 Yellow Fever Departs 109

8 Conclusion 126

Notes 137

A Note on Resources 167

Bibliography 171

Index 185

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