Malignant Fever

Benjamin Rush and the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia


January 4, 2016March 11, 2016

Location: Mary Duke Biddle Room

This exhibit highlights the effects of epidemic diseases on society by examining one of the most famous outbreaks in U.S. history – the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Drawing chiefly on letters written by Dr. Benjamin Rush, an eighteenth-century physician and U.S. Founding Father, to his wife Julia Stockton Rush, the exhibit examines the timeline of the outbreak, early responses, stages and symptoms, and the “cure” for yellow fever that Rush developed. Finally, the exhibit looks at the anatomy of an epidemic, focusing on the social and psychological effects exemplified by Rush’s emotion-filled letters, as well as stories that emphasize the fear, panic, and mental anguish that accompany epidemic disease outbreaks even today.