Yellow Fever in the 1890s

Yellow Fever in the 1890s

Yellow Fever in Mississippi in 1899

During the 19th century, the American South experienced waves of devastating yellow fever outbreaks, with Mississippi being no exception. According to historian Deanne Stephens Nuwer, the 1878 epidemic cost the lives of over 4,000 Mississippians, decimating the population of towns such as Holly Springs and Vicksburg. The disease made several reappearances in the state continuing through the early 20th century.

The featured September 14, 1899 letter is from the Annie McGehee Collection in the J.D. Williams’ Department of Archives & Special Collections. McGehee was originally from Como, MS. She was a student or perhaps a teacher at Huntsville Female College in Huntsville, AL in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Edward Waller, McGehee’s fiancé from Como, provides the bulk of the correspondence in her papers.  Waller worked as a traveling salesman for a Memphis, TN company called Chism. His letters recount sales trips and many also discuss the difficulties of traveling due to yellow fever and quarantines of local towns, including Como.

In the highlighted letter, Edward recounts a trip to Grenada, MS where the residents were busy “loading up” on goods in fear of a quarantine due to the fever and describes an atmosphere of hysteria throughout the town. His correspondence that September was filled with concern over Annie’s health in the wake of the contagious disease.

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