The Dittrick Museum Online Exhibits: SmallPox

Did you know that Dittrick has digital exhibits? Our website hosts several “online” exhibits, guest-written by talented people. Today, I will be presenting from “Small Pox: A city on the edge of Disaster,” written by Patsy Gerstner, PhD. The full online exhibit may be found on the Dittrick website, under online exhibits.

[From Patsy Gerstner] …In the early years of the 20th century, the city of Cleveland experienced a major outbreak of smallpox. This epidemic brought the city to the edge of disaster in 1902. Only a program of community-wide vaccination halted the spread of this dreaded infectious disease. This was not easy to achieve, and came about only through the effective cooperation of Cleveland’s elected officials, public health officers, the medical community, civic-minded businessmen, religious leaders, and educators. Thanks to their efforts, this would be the last smallpox epidemic in the city of Cleveland.

We can trace the course of the epidemic and the city’s response through newspapers, city council archives, medical journals, and public health reports. These sources chronicle the sequence of events and identify the major “players,” but do not adequately relate the horror that smallpox evoked in the minds of Clevelanders. A unique documentation of the epidemic does survive, however, in a remarkable collection of photographs. Homer J. Hartzell, a young physician caring for smallpox patients at the city’s “pest house,” captured the epidemic on film. While he may have done so out of scientific interest, these photos speak to us across time, conveying the suffering and disfigurement brought by this terrible disease. This exhibit tells the tale of the epidemic, and shares these images publicly for the first time. Further photographic documentation survives in the Corlett Collection. Dr. William T. Corlett was professor of dermatology and syphilology at Cleveland’s Western Reserve University School of Medicine, he documented his work with photography throughout his career… (read more)

Collection of photographs, Homer J. Hartzell:

Dr. Homer J. Hartzell headed the Cleveland infectious disease hospital during the city’s last smallpox epidemic, in 1901-1902. Hartzell kept a personal photographic log of the epidemic, as seen in the photos presented here. Some 75 glass negatives, 40 lantern slides, and a small album came to the Dittrick in 1986, along with Hartzell’s own camera used to capture the epidemic.Photo left: Hartzell’s Pony Premo E camera which sold for $8.00 in the Rochester Optical Company Catalogue in 1898.

For more photos from this collection, visit the Dittick website!

In the coming weeks, we will be presenting material for additional online Dittrick exhibits, including dissection, artifacts, dermatology, and birth control!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *