CENTER FOR LOWELL HISTORY UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS LOWELL LIBRARIES

Home     Digital Photographs     Genealogy Resources     Special Collections     Search
 
LOWELL: A FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE 
The Typhoid Epidemic of 1890-91
 
and that the epidemic in Lowell had caused a serious epidemic in Lawrence, further down the river.

TRACKING THE DISEASE

Professor Sedgwick's initial report, dated January 9, 1891, included some preliminary findings of his investigation of the sanitary condition of Lowell's water supply, with "special reference to the possible existence in the city water of the organisms which are believed to produce typhoid fever."  Water samples were collected and examined from each ward, from the city's reservoirs, from the filtering gallery and were also taken from the Merrimack River at points both near and above the intake pipes.  Sedgwick continued to make bacteriological examinations of water from locations in the river, the canals, house-taps and wells.

     Sedgwick delivered his full report to the Lowell Water Board on April 10, 1891.  For the first time the methods of the laboratory were directly applied to the practical work of a field study.  Two years previous, he had developed techniques for the identification and analysis of micro-organisms in water and sewage.  Sedgwick and his assistant, George McLauthlin, visited every typhoid patient in Lowell to determine the exact beginnings of their symptoms.  In his report, he presented a specific hypothesis that typhoid was a water borne disease and that it had invaded Lowell's drinking supply from a few cases in a village north of the city.

     Lowell had long used the Merrimack for drinking water, even though raw sewage was emptied into the river Sedgwick knew that Lowell had five water systems, three of which were drawn directly from the Merrimack.  As this had been the case since 1876, he had to find a reason why a typhoid epidemic broke out in 1890.  He and his assistant found fecal bacteria in abundance in the water supplies and traced the source of infection to an outbreak of typhoid in a neighboring village to the north.

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE EPIDEMIC

On August 24,1890, a Dr Edwards treated a mill worker at Moore's Wool Scouring Mill in North Chelmsford, for a severe case of typhoid fever.  On September 9, he saw another mill worker who had been ill for three days.  During that time she had continued working at the mill and using the privy, which emptied into Stony Brook.

     The total number of cases in North Chelmsford involved nine individuals from three families.  Only four cases appear to have infected the brook, which emptied directly into the Merrimack River. Twenty-four hours after Stony Brook was first infected with the typhoid bacillus, the disease was entering the intake pipe for Lowell's drinking water, less than three miles down river from where the brook entered the Merrimack.

Top Of Page    Previous Page or Next Page