The Toll of Tuberculosis

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Keyes & Smith stable
Library of Congress

On September 1, 1873, an African American man named W. Norment died in Washington DC, in a stable located at the corner of 14th Street and D Street, just a few blocks from the White House. Norment’s obituary, published in the Evening Star just a day later (see image), related a sequence of events that led to his death.

Norment had worked for the Keyes & Smith stable, but he had left to seek treatment for tuberculosis (or consumption, as it called at the time) in the Freeman’s hospital in Washington. After he was released from the hospital, he returned to work in the Keyes & Smith stables, as he seemed “somewhat improved.” The owners allows him to sleep in the stable. On the evening of September 1, however, another employee, Henry Grimes heard Norment “groaning heavily, and on approaching him found that he was breathing his last.” A postmortem examination by Coroner Patterson found that the cause of death was paralysis of the heart, and the body “was turned over to friends of the deceased for burial.”

During the month of September 1873, Norment was just one of approximately thirty victims of consumption in Washington DC. According to the statistics published by the Board of Health, a total of 116 deaths were reported in this city in just one month. Consumption was the most frequent single cause of death, accounting for 18% of deaths. Other common diseases causing deaths included cholera infantum (8%), heart disease (5%), diarrhea (3%), apoplexy (3%), and pneumonia (2%). Women accounted for 33% of the deaths and African Americans (recorded as Colored) accounted for 35% of deaths. This data was published in the Evening Star at the end of October 1873.

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Evening Star, October 16, 1873
Evening Star – Library of Congress

 
 
 

Combining the stories of individual victims, like Norment, with data analysis across a larger scale, such as the mortality statistics for September 1873, is central to a research project on the impact of tuberculosis on American society in the late nineteenth century. This project is national in scope, yet the approach allows for movement across scales, including analysis at the level of states, cities, and local communities. The life and death of Norment is just one example of how this project seeks to document the history of this disease for scholars, students, and the general public.

Cause of Death Washington DC September 1873

Chart created by project team, using data published in the Evening Star, October 16, 1873.
Library of Congress


A searchable, full text version of the Evening Star is available from Chronicling America, Library of Congress.



References

  1. Johnson And Ward. Johnson’s Georgetown and the city of Washington: the capital of the United States of America. [New York: Johnson and Ward, 1862] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/88694008/. (Accessed August 02, 2016.)
  2. Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 16 Oct. 1873. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1873-10-16/ed-1/seq-4/>
  3. Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 02 Sept. 1873. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1873-09-02/ed-1/seq-4/>
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Tom Ewing

Tom Ewing is professor of history at Virginia Tech. He directed the history of tuberculosis project funded by 4VA in summer 2016.

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About Tom Ewing

Tom Ewing is professor of history at Virginia Tech. He directed the history of tuberculosis project funded by 4VA in summer 2016.
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