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New Valentine Exhibition Chronicles Richmond’s Response to Seven Deadly Diseases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 1, 2018

Contact:
Eric Steigleder
Director of Public Relations & Marketing
esteigleder@thevalentine.org

                                                                

New Valentine Exhibition Chronicles Richmond’s Response to Seven Deadly Diseases

Stories of life-saving progress collide with racial and social disparities in Pandemic: Richmond

RICHMOND – A new exhibition exploring the storms of disease that have swept through the city of Richmond will debut at the Valentine on May 10.

Richmond Influenza Vaccines, 1976, photo by Wallace Huey Clark, V.85.37.2477

Pandemic: Richmond identifies stories of both loss and survival as Richmonders fought silent, invisible enemies, including the 1918–1919 influenza, smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid fever, polio and HIV/AIDS. Drawing on the Valentine’s expansive archival collection, this exhibition reveals how these seven diseases ravaged communities while prompting life-saving advances in health care.

“This exhibition gives the Valentine the opportunity to show the true scope and impact of disease throughout Richmond’s history,” said Curator of Archives Meg Hughes. “In addition to the past, Pandemic: Richmond looks at disease today and will hopefully inspire visitors to take an active role in determining how Richmond will address future outbreaks.”

The exhibition also confronts issues of access and inequality. Throughout Richmond’s history, the impact of disease has fallen disproportionately on African Americans, the poor, the enslaved and the disadvantaged. Pandemic: Richmond aims to examine and share these important stories.

“This exhibition uses disease as a way to discuss progress, community, bigotry and modernity in Richmond,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “From the laudable scientific achievements to the uncomfortable truths about who did and did not receive care, Pandemic: Richmond tells a nuanced story that is equal parts frightening and hopeful.”

Pandemic: Richmond was developed with collaborating scholar Elizabeth Outka, an associate professor of English at the University of Richmond and author of the upcoming Raising the Dead, a book about modernist literature and the flu pandemic in Britain and the United States.

“Disease often receives less attention than military conflict but pandemic outbreaks from smallpox to AIDS/HIV have profoundly shaped the city’s history and the lives of its citizens,” said Outka.

The exhibition will be on view at the Valentine from May 10, 2018 to February 24, 2019.

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About the Valentine
The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond stories for more than a century. Through collections, exhibitions and programs, the Valentine provides residents and tourists the opportunity to discover the diverse stories that tell the broader history of this important region. The Valentine offers major changing exhibitions, which focus on American urban and social history, costumes, decorative arts and architecture. https://thevalentine.org/

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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