Blog post by Randi Richardson
Cholera is a bacterial disease typically spread by drinking water contaminated with human feces. It causes severe diarrhea and dehydration and can be fatal in a matter of hours. Left untreated, the mortality rate is about 50 -60%. In industrialized countries with modern sewage and water treatment, cholera has been virtually eliminated. The last major outbreak in the United States occurred in 1911.
Before that time, especially during the nineteenth century, cholera grew to epidemic proportions because people had no understanding of how the disease could be prevented through sanitation. Drinking water was often drawn from rivers, stagnant water sources like canals and shallow wells, some near seeping cesspools.
Cholera first appeared in the United States in 1832. During that year cholera claimed the lives of thousands of U. S. citizens and those abroad. More than 5,000 people died in New Orleans alone; 55,000 in Paris and the United Kingdom. An outbreak in a community would cause extreme panic prompting people to flee elsewhere.
There was a prevalence of cholera in Bloomington during August 1833. After the death of a student enrolled at Indiana College, all classes were canceled and students sent home until the faculty deemed it safe for them to return.
Another epidemic of cholera struck Bloomington during the 1850s. Citizens died by the score leaving doctors bewildered and in a state of helplessness. Many victims of the dreaded disease were frantically buried without benefit of customary last rites. All saloons in the town were ordered closed until the malady had passed. Very little congregating was done, fear occupying the minds of the populace.
The Bloomington Town Council, in a desperate move to combat the inroads of cholera, purchased 200 bushels of lime which were to be spread about town. It was reasoned that the scattering of lime would act as a purifying agent and at least prevent further spread of the epidemic.
In the summer strange ideas came forth on how best to protect one from the ravages of cholera. Perhaps the most surprising one, and one accepted by many as highly potent, was the belief that cholera originated from fresh fruit. The eating of fruit in season was, therefore, strictly taboo in the homes of many citizens. A few families went so far as to destroy their fruit, but they were in a minority.
- A Sketch of Andrew Wylie (1789-1851) available online at http://snaccooperative.org/ark:/99166/w65158s7..
- Bloomington Herald Times April 18, 1957, Sec. 3, p. 4.
- Poster from the American National Red Cross is believed to have been created between 1919 and 1929 and archived by the Library of Congress.
- Cholera Fast Facts, CNN Library, https://www.cnn.com/2013/10/16/health/cholera-fast-facts/index.html.
- Cholera Symptoms & Causes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cholera/symptoms-causes/syc-20355287