Daisie’s scrapbook of personal memorabilia also contains records of some important public events. One that is of particular interest today – when students at Simmons and other schools are being quarantined to contain the spread of the H1N1 virus – is a newspaper clipping about a scarlet fever outbreak that led to the quarantine of three Simmons dormitories.
Scarlet fever is caused by a bacterium that spreads though the bloodstream. Its most distinctive symptom is the development of a red (or scarlet) rash on the patient’s skin. Before the development of penicillin, a powerful antibiotic, scarlet fever was occasionally fatal. It was especially prevalent at schools, where students often lived in close proximity and infection spread quickly. Contact with clothing or other items touched by a sick person could lead to further infection. Scarlet fever is highly contagious; even today, parents are often encouraged to isolate infected children in order to prevent further spread of the disease.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, school newspapers such as the Harvard Crimson kept careful track of the spread of scarlet fever on campuses, since quarantines would affect social life among colleges and would sometimes send whole athletic teams to the infirmary. Knowledge of the highly-contagious nature of the disease led to concern that public libraries, by lending books, might be a cause of epidemic. A New York Times article of 1896 even claims that “scarlet fever has been transmitted in letters by post,” and goes on to describe a case in which scarlet fever had laid dormant in a book for six months. The author suggests that books read by invalids should be burnt (“Infection Spread by Books”).
Several major outbreaks of scarlet fever – including Boston in 1910 – were known to have been caused by the distribution of improperly-pasteurized milk. Tracing outbreaks of the disease to particular dairies was a major public health undertaking. It was initially suggested that the disease actually originated in cows. However, it was eventually determined that dairy employees had come to work while infected, at which point the disease was introduced to the milk supply. Daisie’s newspaper clipping, from the height of the outbreak, April 29, 1910, focuses on the spread of the disease by means of milk from one of three dairies. In 1921, this 1910 outbreak was described as follows:
“An unusually extensive milk-borne outbreak of scarlet fever occurred in Boston during April and May, 1910. A total of 842 cases were reported from Boston and the surrounding towns of Chelsea, Winthrop, Cambridge, Somerville, Malden, and Everett. Investigation showed the most of the cases occurred on the route of a large milk contractor… The cases appeared suddenly April 25th, and the outbreak ceased May 7th. The epidemic reached its highest mark on April 29th, when 128 cases were reported… The source of the infection could not be traced, although it probably consisted of a ‘missed’ case on one of the 250 dairy farms from which the dealer obtained this particular supply of milk" (Rosenau 222).
Given the contagious nature of scarlet fever, it is not surprising that Simmons dormitories were quarantined. Mere months from her graduation, Daisie was briefly at the center of current affairs. She literally connected herself to this historic event by affixing her own health record – created by the Simmons College Gymnasium – to the article. Perhaps, upon reading the article, she checked her own physical measurements. Perhaps she was nervous about her susceptibility to infection. In any case, due to her diligent self-documentation, we know that in her sophomore year Daisie weighed 101.4 pounds and was 162.2 centimeters (or about 5.3 feet) tall.
Boston Tercentenary Committee, Herlihy, E. M., Leahy, W. A., & Winsor, J. (1932). Fifty years of Boston; A memorial volume issued in commemoration of the tercentenary of 1930.
Eyler, J. M. (1986). The epidemiology of milk-borne scarlet fever: the case of Edwardian Brighton. American Journal of Public Health, 76 (5), 573-584.
Hemenway, H. B. (1907). The relation of a Scarlet Fever Epidemic to the Milk Supply. JAMA 43 (11), 960-961.
Infection Spread by Books. (1896, January 11). New York Times, p. 14.
Quarantine Ban Will Not Bar Access to Wellesley. (1924, January 24). Harvard Crimson.
Rosenau, M. J., Whipple, G. C., Trask, J. W., & Salmon, T. W. (1921). Preventive medicine and hygiene. New York and London: D. Appleton.
Scarlet Fever and Milk. (1907). JAMA 48 (7), 612.
Scarlet Fever at Princeton. (1916, January 28). Harvard Crimson.
Scarlet Fever at Yale. (1891, April 22). Harvard Crimson.
Team Crippled by Illness. (1915, May 4). Harvard Crimson.
University of Virginia Health System (2006). Scarlet Fever. Retrieved from http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/UVAHealth/peds_derm/scarlet.cfm.
Wikipedia (2009). Scarlet fever. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarlet_fever.