What Can We Learn from the 1793 Yellow Fever In Philadelphia


Between August 1 and November 9, 1793, at least 5000 Philadelphians died of yellow fever. (The city had a population of 50,000).

I want to call your attention two short pieces on this front.

Lindsay Chervinsky‘s piece at the blog of Harvard University Press it titled “National Epidemics, Then and Now“:  Here is a taste:

How then do 1793 and 2020 compare? Both then and now, political parties appear divided over the causes and solutions to the epidemics. The biggest difference between the two cases is the perspective on executive power. Today, disease prevention and public health are managed by executive agencies that report to the president. The heads of the departments sit on the National Security Council to ensure that global pandemics don’t threaten the nation’s security. The founders couldn’t have envisioned the current pandemic we face, but they understood that certain crises called for federal action. While they weren’t prepared to call for that action in 1793, we can today.

Read the entire piece here.  Our interview with Chervinsky in Episode 68 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is coming soon.

Simon Finger‘s piece at The Panorama is titled “Patients and Patience: The Long Career of Yellow Fever.”  Here is a taste:

The lesson of a city saved by shared sacrifice and civic responsibility is an inspiring one for 2020, when so much hangs upon popular cooperation with calls for social distancing, home sheltering, and public masking. But while Carey’s story ends happily in 1793, that outbreak was only the beginning of a longer ordeal, and one that carried different lessons for the present. Yellow fever returned to North America every summer until 1805, claiming more than 12,000 lives in the process.

Read the entire piece here.