Epidemics in American History

December 18, 2020 - June 6, 2021

Epidemics in American History from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History shares glimpses of life during epidemics from the colonial period through the mid-20th century. Diseases such as smallpox devastated communities in the colonial era and the early republic. Tuberculosis took lives throughout the country, especially in more populated cities during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Disease also took heavy tolls in the military. In conflicts before World War II, more soldiers were killed by disease than in combat.

The documents on display from the Gilder Lehrman Institute include correspondence between the Onondaga Sachems and colonial representatives, personal accounts of the yellow fever outbreak of 1793, and a report on tuberculosis in 1930s Harlem, as well as documents related to the pandemic flu of 1918 and the changing treatment of diseases in the 20th century. Though all of these hardships, Americans and their communities have adapted—developing treatments and vaccines, caring for families and friends, and sharing news and fears with loved ones. These historical documents show how individuals thought about the danger of disease around them, and what they communicated to each other about it, revealing inequities, advocacy, hostility, speculation, and care.

Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.



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Creative: Tronvig Group