The city of Coatesville gained national infamy with the dreadful 1911 lynching of Zachariah Walker. Less than a year later, Coatesville once again rose to public consciousness with the last community-wide epidemic of typhoid in Pennsylvania. The epidemic’s ferocity transformed Coatesville into a hot zone; a place where infectious disease raced through the community and responders worked against time to halt the spread and heal the sick. Into this maelstrom were sent the doctors and nurses of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The events at Coatesville highlighted the new tactics of modern disease fighters even as it struck down one of those medical warriors in one of the only losses of state medical personnel in the line of duty. The typhoid outbreak in Coatesville provides a compelling picture of the competing interests of medical healers, public health officials, and industry while it offers a touching story of bravery in the face of an unseen, but ever-present microbial enemy.
About the Speaker: Dr. James E. Higgins is a lecturer at Rider University, where he teaches both American Urban History and the History of American Medicine. His enthusiasm for the history of medicine and public health grew with his study of influenza in North American and European cities, especially with regard to the 1918 influenza epidemic. His publications include “The Health of the Commonwealth: A Brief History of Medicine, Public Health, and Disease in Pennsylvania, 1681- to the Present” (2020) and the forthcoming “A Life in Medicine and Public Health: Samuel G. Dixon, the Race for Tuberculin and the Rise of Modern Public Health in Pennsylvania.”
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This presentation is made possible by the generous support of the Haverford Trust Company.