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

Santiago’s T-Shirt

Wanda Hernández, Curator of Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond discusses how DACA has impacted one of the individuals featured in the exhibition

Photo: Dan Currier

During the creation of Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond, I interviewed over 60 Latinos in the Richmond area. One of the individuals I interviewed was Santiago, who shed light on the complexities of immigration policy and how it impacts his day-to-day life. At the time of the interview, Santiago was completing his last year at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. However, On September 5, 2017, Santiago received life-altering news.

While parents conversed at bus stops, kids loaded school buses and teachers prepared their classrooms, President Trump announced the discontinuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order issued by President Obama in 2012 to protect undocumented youth from deportation. The optimism that accompanied the new school year evaporated for approximately 800,000 DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers.

In order to qualify for DACA, the applicant has to be 30 years old or under, have arrived in the U.S. prior to the age of 16 and lived here for five consecutive years. Additionally, the applicant must be an outstanding citizen, maintain a clean criminal record, be in school or have graduated, or be a military veteran. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants met these rigorous requirements. Until 2012, a Dreamer’s legal status was a well-guarded secret for many Richmonders like Santiago.

In 2002, Santiago and his family immigrated to Richmond when he was 9 years-old. Undeterred by the change in scenery, language and culture, Santiago quickly adapted. He learned English after only about one year in the United States and fell in love with the universal language of numbers, math.

By the time he got to high school in Henrico County in 2008, Santiago was an exceptional student, a leader in various honor societies, a member of the robotics team and captain of the soccer team. However, unlike many teens, Santiago moved around due to immigration raids occurring in the area in the 2000s. He also contemplated whether he could, or even deserved to attend college. Without a nine digit number, Santiago was an undocumented teenager.

Hispanic College Institute t-shirt, ca. 2010, Gift of Santiago, photo: Terry Brown

While he was an active member of his school community, his classmates couldn’t understand the duality he faced every day. Thankfully, in 2010, Santiago encountered a network of immigrants and their allies, who were committed to supporting one another in personal, educational and professional endeavors. Santiago found his support system at the Hispanic College Institute (HCI), a week-long college preparatory conference for students across Virginia. Santiago described that for the first time, he felt a sense of familia, and grew close with others he could relate to. The mentors and friends he met that summer in 2010 gave him hope in a future he had thought would always be out of reach.

In June 2012, when Santiago graduated from high school, he benefited from DACA. While DACA did not allow him to receive federal financial aid, he did obtain a work permit and driver’s license. However, it was the encouragement Santiago received from his HCI familia that ultimately led him to pursue education at a four-year institution. In 2014, Santiago received a full scholarship to attend Virginia Tech, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Engineering in May 2017.

Santiago’s story is represented in our exhibition Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond through his HCI t-shirt.

There are organizations in Richmond, the Commonwealth and throughout the United States like the Hispanic College Institute that provide support and opportunity to deserving individuals, regardless of legal status. As many in our communities fear for the future and safety of our undocumented neighbors, there are stories like Santiago’s that remind us that the dream is not lost.


Wanda Hernández is the curator of Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond and the Latino Programming Coordinator at the Valentine.

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Our new Controversy/History series will explore contentious, present-day issues by comparing historic debates with modern data. We have re-envisioned our long-running Community Conversations to continue encouraging sometimes uncomfortable but always relevant discussions that inspire action and promote progress.

At each of these events, Director Bill Martin and radio host Kelli Lemon will provide biographies of individuals with opposing viewpoints from Richmond’s past. Expert speakers will then present 21st century data that explains how these disagreements have developed and shifted.

A moderated, in-depth conversation among attendees will follow.

Finally, the Capital Region Collaborative (CRC) will provide audience members with pertinent regional data and a list of concrete steps they can take to make a difference in their community.

Dates and topics:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 6-8 p.m.
Social Stability: Voting Rights & Redistricting
Corinna Barrett Lain, S. D. Roberts & Sandra Moore Professor of Law, University of Richmond
Henry L. Chambers Jr., Austin E. Owen Research Scholar & Professor of Law, University of Richmond

Tuesday, December 5, 2017, 6-8 p.m.
Quality Place: Monuments and Tourism

Tuesday, January 2, 2018, 6-8 p.m.
Job Creation: Immigration

Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 6-8 p.m
Coordination Transportation: The Interstate Highway System

Tuesday, April 3, 2018, 6-8 p.m.
Richmond History Makers Tie-In

The Valentine is excited to partner with the Capital Region Collaborative and aligning discussion topics with their regional priorities.


Opening of Monumental: Richmond’s Monuments (1607-2018)

Since Christopher Newport’s expedition planted a cross on the banks of the James River in 1607, Richmonders have marked the landscape to reflect their collective values. Monuments and memorials are objects that commemorate something, usually a person, a group of people, a place or an event. Accepted forms include statues, obelisks, landmark objects or art works such as sculptures or fountains. Richmond is the place where many of our state and national stories are commemorated since our colonial past to our diverse present. Of all the debates that have flared about Confederate memorials nationwide, perhaps no state has a bigger challenge on its hands than Virginia. The Old Dominion has more public monuments to the Confederacy than any other state — at least 223, according to a survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Texas, which is six times as large as Virginia, has 178.

VAJAZZ Sunday: B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown, exhibition curator, will lead a “Family Day” discussion with relatives of the artists featured in the “VIRGINIA JAZZ: The Early Years” Exhibition. Music will be provided by the Richmond Jazz Ensemble. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Call 804-643-1972.