Past Event

Lorna Ebner - Burning Contagion: Organized Arson in Response to Quarantine Facilities and Pest Houses, 1858-1901

May 30, 2024
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
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Event Description 

Throughout the 19th century, communities in the United States committed arson against healthcare facilities that housed the diseased. Local and national newspapers often described the resulting damage as the actions of a “lawless mob.” A closer reading of these incidents reveals local communities put at risk by facilities that actively caused them harm while benefitting other parties. This talk suggests that these events were organized acts of self-defense borne of medical knowledge, rather than rash mobs acting through fear or ignorance, and will highlight two such incidents, one in Staten Island, New York and another in Orange, New Jersey. The National Library of Medicine houses a pamphlet from the Staten Island episode meant to ascertain the continued efficacy of a Quarantine Hospital among an ever growing population. In the conclusion, the committee described the institution as “the unholy alliance of a pauper establishment with a Health Department.” A case study of the events surrounding each unveils the overarching social and cultural trends that culminated in common acts of arson.

Event Speaker

Lorna Ebner, Graduate Student in History at Stony Brook University

Event Information 

Free and open to the public; no registration required. To view the event live stream, please visit the event webpage

Hosted by the National Library of Medicine