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Baltimore Smallpox Epidemic collection

 Collection 0321-MDHC

The Baltimore Smallpox Epidemic collection comprises correspondence and financial records relating to an epidemic between 1871 and 1882. Topics of interest include smallpox vaccinations, measures taken to prevent the spread of the epidemic, including destruction of clothing and the quarantine of afflicted patients. There is also personal correspondence on the epidemic.


  • 1871-1882

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


21 Items

Scope and Content of Collection

The Baltimore Smallpox Epidemic collection spans the years 1871 to 1882. The collection contains cancelled checks and receipts written by Health Commissioners of the Baltimore Board of Health, documentation of goods destroyed, and a docket of expenses from the Commissioner of Health. Also included is a letter expressing condolences to a sick friend as well as news of smallpox in Baltimore. Topics of interest include smallpox vaccinations, destruction of property due to smallpox, and the quarantine of afflicted patients.


In November 1871, a smallpox epidemic arose in Baltimore, Maryland, spread from Philadelphia. From March 1872 through July 1873, the epidemic killed more than 2,000 residents. In order to stop the spread of the disease, the Baltimore Commissioner of Health was granted the power to quarantine the afflicted in a Marine Hospital. In addition, the Baltimore Board of Health developed a plan of action to stem the spread of smallpox in the city. This plan included requiring police officers to report cases of smallpox discovered on their beat; investigations of new cases by Baltimore Health Department medical officers; the employment of sanitary inspectors to quarantine the sick and disinfect contaminated clothing, furniture, and houses; and vaccinations of the infected. When smallpox continued to spread despite these efforts, the Board of Health employed additional physicians to assist in vaccinating residents. From 1874 to 1881, Baltimore was almost free of smallpox; however, another epidemic broke out again in 1882 and lasted to 1883, during which time the disease killed more than 1,500 residents. During this period, the Commissioner of Health was given the power to require vaccinations, which were only voluntary during the 1872-1873 epidemic. As of July 1883, between 85 and 90 percent of Baltimore residents were vaccinated, and the rate of smallpox declined dramatically. Smallpox never again reached epidemic proportions in Baltimore since the outbreak of 1882-1883.


The collection has been divided into two series:

  1. Series 1: Correspondence
  2. Series 2: Business Records

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the Baltimore Smallpox Epidemic collection from Modern Age of Maryland, Inc. of Rockville, MD in 1990. The collection also includes former Maryland Manuscripts 3520 and 4995, whose provenance is unknown.

Related Material

Howard, William James, Jr., MD. Public Health Administration and Natural History of Disease in Baltimore Maryland. (Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1924). (UMCP HBK Maryland Room, Maryland Stacks RA448.B3 H6). Includes statistics and dates on smallpox epidemics in Baltimore to 1920.

The Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, Maryland, holds a diary of Lucy Bronson 1881-1882 (MS 2753), a young girl from Baltimore, documenting her feelings during the smallpox epidemic. The society's holdings also include a vertical file entitled Minstrel Program, February 9, 1883, a ticket for a benefit for those infected by smallpox. Handwritten notes list jokes and songs to be included on the program. Also at the society is a copy of A Paper on Smallpox, written by J. (Johannes) Conrad (Baltimore: Innes & Company, 1874). (Maryland Historical Society Main Reading Room MP3.C754S). This book about smallpox in Baltimore was written immediately after the 1872-1873 epidemic.

Processing Information

The materials were placed in acid-free folders and stored in an acid-free box.

Guide to the Baltimore Smallpox Epidemic collection
Processed by Steven Bookman.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742