Typhoid Fever!

Curator of Archives Meg Hughes discusses our changing understanding of Richmond’s Typhoid outbreaks and Pandemic: Richmond, the Valentine’s upcoming exhibition 

In 2014, museum technician Laura Carr wrote about the digitization of a series of lantern slides donated by the Richmond Health Department to the Valentine in 1981. The slides depict efforts to eradicate typhoid fever in Richmond. At the time, we did not have a lot of information to share about the images. Happily, recent staff research has brought to light new details about this interesting collection.


The Richmond Health Department formed in 1906. One of its early initiatives (1907) was to investigate 433 cases of typhoid fever, creating the city’s first systematic study of infectious disease. In 1908, Dr. Ernest C. Levy (1868–1938), head of the Richmond Health Department, published the survey findings in The Old Dominion Journal of Medicine and Surgery. Dr. Levy discussed the generally declining rate of typhoid fever cases in Richmond from 1880 to 1907 but noted several outbreaks of the disease in 1881, 1884 and 1900.


One change in our understanding of the lantern slide collection relates to the overall city map that begins the series.


We originally understood the solid circles to indicate cases of typhoid fever, in which case the disease appeared to concentrate within the heart of the city. This is not the case. In fact, the solid circles represent properties with city-supplied water. Hollow circles represent properties with water provided by wells or springs. While one cluster of outbreaks in Church Hill was determined to come from a typhoid-infected confectioner, the larger proportion of cases were from properties on the outskirts of the city, generally using water from wells or springs and lacking sewage systems. Viewing the circles with this new information completely changes one’s interpretation of the map.


Museum visitors will learn more about Richmond’s fight against typhoid fever and other infectious diseases in May 2018 when Pandemic: Richmond opens in the Valentine’s Lower Level. This exhibition explores the repeated storms of disease that have swept through the city. From influenza to cholera to polio to AIDS/HIV, Pandemic: Richmond investigates how Richmonders have fought silent, invisible enemies and tells their stories of both loss and survival

Meg Hughes is the Curator of Archives at the Valentine

Movin’ On Up: Change Comes to the 1812 Wickham House

Collection Project Manager/Registrar Alicia Guillama on transforming an historic home one item at a time.

It can be difficult to equate words like “change” and “new” to a Richmond landmark as historic as the 1812 John Wickham House. After all, this home has been around for over 200 years – what could possibly be different?

But like any home, the 1812 John Wickham House is in a constant state of change. In fact, interpretation of the Wickham House has evolved over the decades. Most recently, the Valentine has been working to redesign the tour experience by allowing for more visitor interaction within each room.  In support of that effort, the museum was focused on removing and returning several long-term loans of antique furniture and decorative arts.

In 1994, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan loaned the Valentine 33 pieces of furniture and decorative arts for use in the 1812 Wickham House. These items spanned every size and shape, from a single candlestick to a large square piano. They were all beautiful pieces, but they no longer fit the Valentine’s interpretive vision.  As Collection Project Manager/Registrar, it was my job to ensure that these museum-quality pieces made it home safely. If you think packing and moving the contents of your home would be complicated, imagine moving these antique pieces over 600 miles!

Working with Josh Aubry of Custom Art Installations, we created a packing and crating plan for each of the 33 pieces based upon their object type and respective needs.  This included a creative solution for packing 24 chairs (we decided to keep them in place using seat belts) and perfecting the housing for the sensitive marble table top and piano. As a general rule, less is more when it comes to preparing objects for transport. That is why our goal was to secure the objects as safely as possible while also requiring the least amount of intervention during transit. After all was said and done, 14 crates were loaded into a tractor trailer truck that spanned half a city block.

The impact of removing these pieces was most immediately noticeable in the Wickham House Drawing Room. It was shocking to see this once overflowing space so empty. But just as new beginnings are both bitter and sweet, I can’t help but be excited about the possibilities and new objects that will help us tell the story of the home, the family and Richmond for years to come.


Alicia Guillama is the Collection Project Manager/Registrar.