LOWELL: A FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE
The Typhoid Epidemic of 1890-91
Advertisement from the Lowell Morning Times, Jan.
WATER SOURCES AND TYPHOID THEORIES
In the Annual Report of the Board of Health for the
City of Lowell for 1890, five sources of water supply for the city
are listed. The Board supported Sedgwick's
opinion that chemical examination of the water was
unreliable and emphasized that bacteriological testing
was needed. The five sources for Lowell's water were:
1) The Merrimack River. The city water was taken from the
river a short distance above the Pawtucket dam and distributed from reservoirs
through the city's
2) Canal water. This was river water drawn just above
the dam into two large canals which supplied power for about ten large
manufacturing corporations. Some of the corporations also pumped canal
water into their mills for water-closet and washing purposes. Although
the use of this water was forbidden for drinking purposes, many employees
preferred it because of its coolness. The canal water was often contaminated
by discharge from the mills' water-closets.
3) Belvidere reservoir. This water was pumped from the
canals and used by the corporations for fire purposes.
4) Well water.
5) Spring water. This was brought into the city and sold in
carboys (large bottles in protective baskets or crates).
The Board went on record as saying that the
cause of the epidemic was unknown at that time (end of 1890) but offered
1) Canals. It was now evident that the canals were being
infected by discharge from Lowell Hospital, even though the waste was disinfected
according to approved methods.
2) City water. Up to now, the city's water and health
boards believed their water supply was safe, even though it was drawn from
the Merrimack. A commonly held belief at the time was that running
water purified itself, even though sewage was dumped into the river. The
Board stated that this may have been the cause of the epidemic but did
not know why it continued into late December (actually into March of 1891).
They felt the disease was still present in Lowell at the end of 1890
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