Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 17PHYSICIAN'S CHOLERA REPORT
June 3, 1849
The city's charter of 1837 empowered it to create a Board of Health to prevent the spread of disease. In the 1830s and 1840s, crudely built sluices carried off the worst of the surface water from the streets but they were still in a disgusting state. The water supply often was contaminated by human and animal waste. As a result there were outbreaks of disease. Major cholera epidemics occurred in 1849, 1854, and 1866. Other common diseases at this time included erysipelas, smallpox, typhoid, pulmonary disorders, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and measles. Better public health was not instituted until the late 1860s. Chicago's population in 1849 was approximately 23,000.
In 1850, over half the city's citizens were foreign-born. Of these the largest group were Irish. They were 6,076 in number and represented over twenty percent of the overall population and thirty-nine percent of all foreigners in the city. The Irish had come to this country to escape political oppression and famine at home. Most were unskilled and lived in crowded and unsanitary shanties. These were largely located in the North Division and in Bridgeport, which was the slaughterhouse district along the line of the canal. With street grades changing and the composition of neighborhoods rapidly evolving, it was common practice to move entire buildings on wooden rollers during this period.
Points to Consider
What was the nationality of Edward Walin?
What was his occupation and what were his living conditions?
Why would Walin come to the United States to live under these conditions?
What was the cause of death and what form of treatment did he receive?