Elliot Street Smallpox 1848

The Small Pox.

On Monday last, a young woman who had for several days been ill, presented on her skin appearances, which, taken in connection with the brief history of her case, were sufficient, in the opinion of some of the medical men who saw her, to mark the disease as small pox.

On Tuesday, she was seen by two physicians, one of whom has had the disease the natural way, and has seen all the cases which have occurred in this and the adjoining towns for forty years past, and the other has been at one time in charge for some months of a small pox hospital.

Both agreed in the above diagnosis. Rumor had been busy previously to this judgment's being formed, and when formed, it would have been impossible without falsifying to have concealed it. Accordingly, early on Tuesday morning, the selectmen were called upon to provide for the public safety.

The Revised Statutes (chap. 87) say: "If any person shall be infected with the small pox, the selectmen of the town in which such person shall be, shall immediately provide a place as remote from the inhabitants as shall be convenient, and remove the person so infected, to such place, unless in the opinion of the attending physician the life of such person would be endangered by the removal; and in all cases to take the most prudent measures to prevent the spreading of the disease."

The patient has not been removed, whether from the reason provided in the statute, or because the officers were more humane than the law, but under the last clause of the section quoted, large placards have been hoisted in the street, wherein is the sick person, at the corners next above and below the house, with "Caution! Small Pox in Elliot street," in large letters.

People are thus to get the disease at their own risk, and if they die, must not find fault with the selectmen. Our town authorities have doubtless done what seemed to them best, in fulfilment of the law; but it does not appear that the public health would be less safe if the notices were fastened on the door of the infected house only, and the alarm excited, which in all such cases makes nine-tenths of the mischief, would be far less.

The patient occupies a back room, and we believe the street in front of the house to be as safe a thoroughfare, now, as any in town. The placards themselves were for a whole day eyed askance, and our Main street, though not under ban, was as empty and still as that of a deserted village. Its usual bustle is in some measure restored to-day.

One person is ill with well-marked small pox; another, unless she has left town to-day, is in the same house convalescent from the modified form of the disease called varioloid. Two others were seized at nearly the same time with chills, pains in the head, back and limbs, followed by fever, and after a few days with rash upon the skin, but with no distinct pimples, vesicles or pustules. There was nothing to mark these cases decisively as varioloid. One or two others in the same house have been affected with feverish symptoms, without eruption.*

All these individuals were in frequent communication, some in constant attendance on Mrs. H., a lady of our village, who on Saturday the 7th October, returned from New York after the absence of thirteen days, during which time she visited Albany and went down the river in a boat, crowded with passengers.

On the Monday following she became sick, and a few days afterward an eruption appeared, of which we have no exact description, but of which traces were visible this week. This lady has had cow pox, and so have all the rest, save her daughter, whose disease has caused all the alarm. It is perhaps proper to state that Mrs. H. and three others with the light eruption, have been packed, sweated and bathed, while the daughter has not been so treated.

Small pox is a severe disease of which people often die, as they do from typhus and scarlet fevers, and from erysipelas. Against the terrors of the former, we have the safeguard of vaccination; and a very great, if not perfect one, it is. If it do not, as was first supposed, remove all susceptibility of small pox, it, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, converts a dangerous disease into a safe one. By avoiding immediate exposure to small pox, and by proper precautions on the part of those in attendance on the sick, the spread of the disease is limited.

Against the three other diseases no such protection is at present known. Yet their presence in a town, though their miasma extends through the air widely as that of small pox, does not ever excite such unreasonable panic as has been shown about one secluded case of small pox.

It certainly becomes the duty of the authorities of the town, while acting under the statute, to endeavor to allay this senseless fear, and carefully avoid all that shall uselessly increase it. For ourselves we shall think more highly of the assembled wisdom of the State at Montpelier, when the statute above quoted is blotted out from the book, or most essentially modified.


Brattleboro, Nov. 1, 1848.

* One of these, this (Thursday) morning, has a small eruption of pimples on face, breast and hand.

Vermont Phoenix, November 3, 1848.

Article by Dr. Francis John Higginson (1806-1872). This doctor's youngest brother, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, was just beginning his antislavery career.


"Caution! --- Small Pox in Elliot St."

Such is a printed notice, stuck up on poles, at the corner of Elliot street and School street, opposite my Water Cure Establishment. But the house in which the patients are has not been marked in any way, which is a new mode of proceeding altogether.

I consider it my duty to present this matter in its proper light to the public, and that there is no cause for apprehension of its being the Small Pox. Will you be kind enough, sir, to allow me availing myself of your paper for the purpose?

On this supposition, I proceed to state:

Mrs Hinckley, who keeps a millinery shop on Elliot street, some weeks ago, after her return from New York, was taken sick with headache, pain in the loins, chilliness, sickness in the stomach, and vomiting of bile, attended with a quick pulse. She took an emetic, and after three days' suffering as described, an eruption appeared on her skin, which settled particularly around her mouth.

This eruption showed itself by large, red, and irregular spots, and formed a flat blister, filled with clear lymph of a reddish hue. The symptoms of the black bilous disease, which have been mentioned above, disappeared, however, when the eruption broke out. She became my patient, and in the course of the following nine days, both the eruption and a kind of weakness disappeared, without leaving any visible trace behind them.

At the outbreak of the eruption, Mrs Hinckley was packed in a wet sheet, and remained there till a light perspiration ensued, after which she was bathed in water of 72°. Besides this, she took a sitz bath once a day, and drank nothing but water.

During her convalescence, her daughter, Miss Charlotte Hinckley, over-exerted herself in the care of her mother's store. Finally, she was compelled, on Wednesday, the 25th October, to stay at home, from suffering great pain in the lower back, headache, chilliness, and loss of appetite.

Next day the pulse was feverish, and black bilious evacuations with previous pains in the bowels, set in. Saturday morning, a number of red, smooth spots of the size of a pin's head, were discovered on her hands, and spread in the afternoon of the same day over her face.

Sunday morning, the eruption had greatly increased, and risen above the skin, but all the precursory symptons, as stated above, had left her. Sunday afternoon, the face and particularly the cheeks were covered with a deep redness, and Monday morning, a number of flat, white, and transparent vesicles appeared on her cheeks, forehead and chin, as well as the body.

All these red spots and vesicles have been and are still, irregular and flat. There is no cellular division in the vesicles, and when one of the blisters is opened at the side with a lancet, it empties itself entirely and the skin sinks down. There is no umbilical spot in the middle of the vesicles. They are shaped irregularly, and so are the red spots under them. Neither the red spots nor the vesicles are expelled at once, but at intervals of 6 to 12 hours.

The fever has subsided --- the patient feels only a kind of disagreeable burning tension of the skin where it is covered the most. The throat is sore, particularly towards night, and the smell from the mouth somewhat acid; but the peculiar scent of small pox, preceding and attending their eruption, cannot be observed.

The disease is either a kind of varicella, or a pemphigus ; it belongs, at any rate, to the erysipelatous humors of this class, which affect the bile; but it is certainly no small pox, which never affects the bile. To me, it is quite astonishing how physicians who have not seen the course of the disease, and without hearing my reasons, as I have attended the patient, can conclude from appearances and a slight resemblance, that it is a real case of small pox.

A young lady, rooming with Miss Hinckley, was affected at the same time as she, with diarrhea, chilliness and headache. She could be packed and sweated, which was not practicable with Miss H. She has a few pimples, which ignorance alone would call variola or varioloid (small pox). Mr Hunt, in the same house, felt also unwell, and had some red spots, but after sweating, the whole affair changed for the better in three days.

The physicians of the village have been in the house to see the patients; they were all doubtful except two of them. --- Those, therefore, who have caused the poles and boards to be put up, with the "Caution" against "Small Pox in Elliot street," have made themselves liable to answer whatever bad consequences may result from this ill-advised measure.

Dr. R. Wesselhoeft.

Brattleboro, Nov. 1, 1848.

Vermont Phoenix, November 3, 1848.

Letter dated November 1, 1848 by Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft.


Small Pox. --- Much alarm has existed for the last few days, on account of the reputed existence of small pox in this village. As such rumors are apt to be magnified in the country, we have obtained from physicians, certificates of the number of cases. Whether it really exists, is yet a matter of doubt. Whether it does or not, there is no cause of alarm.

Every person should as a matter of precaution be vaccinated, who had not been within the last four or five years. In this way, the disease is rendered comparatively harmless, and is not so much to be dreaded as mumps, scarlet fever, and diseases of that class. As yet, there has not been but one case, at most, which any of the physicians believe to be small pox:

In answering your inquiries as to my knowledge of the existence of small pox in this village, and how many cases if any there are, I have to state, that I know of but one case that is at all suspected of being small pox. I have seen this case but once, and it appeared to me to show marks of the small pox. I should be of the opinion that it was a case, but at the early stage in which I saw it, could not so well judge, as if I saw it as it developed itself. As a measure of precaution, I advise all persons who have not been to be vaccinated. To those who have been vaccinated, it is a harmless disease.

T. B. Kittredge, M. D.

Brattleboro, Nov. 2, 1848.

I have seen one case of small pox in Mr Clark's house in Elliot st., and one of varioloid.

Francis J. Higginson.

Nov. 2, 1848.

Vermont Phoenix, November 3, 1848.







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