Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Henrietta Keefner and the Diphtheria epidemic

Daily State Register [Springfield]
9 Dec. 1902, p.5. GenealogyBank.com.
NewsBank And/or the American Antiquarian Society,
2004. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
There haven't been many epidemics that have impacted me in my lifetime. Over the past year or two, we have chuckled at the way doctors' offices and hospitals quiz patients about recent travels to West Africa. When my husband answered "yes" (following a business trip to Nigeria), no one seemed to know what to do. Ebola was a serious risk in a number of parts of the world, but not within thousands of miles of where we lived.

Diphtheria, on the other hand, was a very real threat to families and communities at the turn of the 20th century and for centuries before that.  A diphtheria epidemic in the Springfield, Illinois area took the life of my great grandmother's niece. Newspaper, census, and interment records help tell the story. 

"Diphtheria at Keefner Home - Contagion's Second Visit
There, Other Residences Quarantined."
Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield]
11 Dec. 1902, Part 1 sec.: 4. GenealogyBank.com.
NewsBank And/or the American Antiquarian Society.,
2004. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.

Just days after Henrietta died, her older sister Elizabeth also contracted the disease. Because of the risk to others, such details were published in the local newspaper. Local board of health laws required that "all houses where either disease [scarlet fever or diphtheria] exists must be placarded for six weeks from the time the disease is determined."1