From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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December 22, 1879

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Chicago experienced 196.9 deaths per 100,000 population due to diphtheria in 1879. The comparable figure for scarlet fever was 79.1. It was not until the final decade of the nineteenth century that the majority of the city's medical practitioners accepted the idea of contagious microorganisms. Instead filth was thought to generate contagious diseases spontaneously. Futile efforts thus were made to stop the spread of diphtheria and scarlet fever by overhauling plumbing systems and relaying drains.

Dr. Christian Fenger, a physician trained in Europe, came to Chicago in 1878 and demonstrated the role of bacteria in surgical infections at the Cook County Hospital. And the first lectures on the germ theory of disease were given by Dr. Henry Gradle in 1883 at the Chicago Medical College. It was not however until the early nineties that a majority of the city's medical community became convinced of the validity of the work of Louis Pasteur and his colleagues in Europe. Chicago was not alone in it reluctance to embrace these revolutionary ideas. Indeed worldwide the new science of bacteriology won only hard fought acceptance.

Points to Consider

Which dictionary definition of scholar is being used here?

Which two causes for the spread of contagious diseases does this document suggest?

What could have caused poor sanitary conditions at the Sixth Ward Schools?

How do schools currently protect students against diphtheria and scarlet fever?

See Related Document:

15 and 39

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