DAVIDSON HISTORY

Typhoid Fever

by | Oct 16, 2019 | Davidson History

Robert Love, Davidson College Class of 1898. (photo courtesy of Davidson College Archives)

​On July 16, 1898 the Yorkville Enquirer reprinted an article from the Gastonia Gazette on a number of cases of typhoid fever that were contracted at Davidson’s commencement. Typhoid fever results from ingesting water or food that has been contaminated by the salmonella typhi bacteria, and is  extremely contagious.  According to the Enquirer, these particular cases resulted from the drinking water at one of the college boarding houses: “Messrs. Edgar and Robert Love and Misses Mamie Love and Mabel Smith were infected at Davidson commencement. Mr. Bernard Smith was at the same boarding house, but drank no water and has escaped infection. One young man died at Davidson from fever contracted at the same place…about a dozen other cases in South Carolina are said to be traceable to the same source of infection. We hear that Professor [Henry Louis] Smith, of Davidson, sent a jug of the water to Charlotte for analysis and it was found to contain the typhoid germ.”

Two weeks later, the Enquirer published an update, also taken from the Gazette: “The entire community feels a sympathetic interest in four cases of typhoid fever contracted at Davidson College commencement. The two young ladies, Miss Mable Smith and Miss Mamie Love, have safely pass [sic] the crisis of the disease and are fairly on the way to recovery. In the case of Messrs. Edgar and Robert the disease has been of a more desperate type. For several days both have been as dangerously ill, it seems, as they could be, and in neither case is it quite certain that the crisis is passed. Of the two, Mr. Robert Love is in the more critical condition. A trained nurse from Bay City, Michigan, now has this patient in charge, however, and when all the conditions are summed up there is a comforting hope, gratifying to us all, that he will soon show signs of improvement. There are four or five other cases of fever in town, one or two of them being very critical ones.” Robert and Edgar Love both survived, and followed their father, Grier, into the textile business.

According to Cornelia Shaw’s history of the Davidson College, water was originally piped to the college from a nearby spring, and later a well was dug near Philomathean Hall.  Following the sensational newspaper coverage of the 1898 typhoid outbreak, however, the Board of Trustees chose Professor Smith, who had already served as the town’s sanitary commissioner, to supervise the construction of a new water works. Shaw reports that Smith arranged the drilling of  “artesian tube wells, then entirely new in this section.” Such wells, previously used in Europe, were among the cheapest and best means of providing pure water, and are still used in developing countries today.

Nancy Griffith

Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.

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