June 12, 1873
The first reported case in Birmingham’s deadly cholera outbreak dates to June 12, 1873. The individual believed to be the first carrier of the disease in the city, known only as Mr. Y, had recently moved from Huntsville to Birmingham. He showed symptoms three days after his bed and accessories arrived from Huntsville, which was suffering its own cholera epidemic. Mr. Y died, and days later, two sisters fell ill and died. In all three cases, no one properly disposed of body fluids and the disease spread through the city. Despite the efforts of community-minded residents, including local madame Louise Wooster, a mass exodus of people who feared for their lives shrunk Birmingham’s population by half by the end of the summer.
Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.
Map of cholera outbreaks in the U.S., c. 1874. (Ely McClellan, National Library of Medicine)
Map of the 1873 cholera epidemic. Compiled originally by Mortimer Jordan Jr. for inclusion in his 1875 report, published by the U.S. government. (Bhamwiki)
This is the first known photograph of Birmingham. It was taken from the new Jefferson County Courthouse, either in 1873, during its construction, or in 1875, following its completion, by photographer A.C. Oxford. (William H. Brantley Collection, Samford University, Bhamwiki) Captions, apparently added by William H. Brantley, indicate the following structures: 1. “chimney of old sail” First Presbyterian Church 2. First Baptist Church, Sixth Avenue and 22nd Street 3. First Methodist Church, Sixth Avenue and 21st Street 4. First Birmingham Water Works, 13th Avenue and 22nd Street 5. T.L. Hudgins residence, Sixth Avenue and 21st Street 6. John Terry residence (site of Phillips High School)
Jefferson County native Mortimer H. Jordan (1844-1889) was a noted physician who led the fight against the Birmingham cholera outbreak of 1873. He attended the University of Alabama and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War before settling into medical practice in Elyton and Birmingham. For a time, Jordan worked with J. Marion Sims, known as the “father of gynecology,” in New York. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of John Morse)
“The cholera invasion- removing a cholera suspect from a house in Second Avenue, New York, to the hospital.” (Artwork by B. West Clinedinst, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, National Library of Medicine)
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.