The mission of LowellIrish is to collect and preserve the history and cultural materials, which document the presence of the Irish community in Lowell. As the first immigrant group in a city that continues to celebrate its immigrant past, LowellIrish will serve as an advocate to support a better understanding of the historical, political, religious, and social function the Irish played in the formation of the city.
Rumors have wings.
The fragility of life was well-known to those who lived in the 19th
century. Childbirth, cholera, dysentery-
each added to the toll that would be brought by cart or hearse to the burial
grounds of the city. But one word
brought more fear into the community than any other- smallpox. When Dr. Green heard whispers of the
pestilence making its rounds in the Acre, he took immediate steps. That very afternoon Dr. Green and other Health
Commissioners made their way into neighborhood going door to door seeking out
the truth. Dr. Green must have recalled ten
years earlier, when he was the sole physician
in the town of Lowell and when the first case was reported in the mills. According to own memoir about half of the
girls working in the mill at that time took off in every direction to get away
from the pox.
For years the good Doctor had been advocating vaccinating
the population. At times he went right
into the corporations to give the
virus. He prided himself in
recording 700 inoculations by doing so. The
conditions for spreading the disease in the Acre were ripe. The commissioners had been advocating good soil, good water, and good air to
keep away the spread of the disease. The
Acre was sorely in want of all three conditions. Descriptions of the period told of the close quarters
and squalid living conditions of the Irish.
Streets were dark in midday due to the cramped conditions. Sewers flowed freely spreading vapors and death.
Dr. Green could not understand why the Irish did not bring
their sick to him at first sight of sickness.
The first few days of the disease was evidenced by fever and chills;
common ailments for sure. As these
symptoms dissipated a rash quickly formed and then the pustules. Those who took care of the sick were often
those who helped spread the disease. Those
angels of mercy who went house to house helping their neighbor may have done
more harm than good. The Irish may not
have been very knowledgeable of how the contagion spread, but their greatest
fear was in having their children taken away. And it was the children that it struck
first. There were the three Hickey
children; John, Margaret, and Johanna.
The Quinn children as well, along with the McGrath, O’Connell, and
Donahue wee ones as well. They were just
the beginning. If the children were
found, they might be taken from their families and never seen again. That was their fear.
The Doctor wrote, The
crowded state of this population, their peculiar habits of associating
together, especially about the sick, their want of cleanliness, their neglect
of Vaccination & the fact that the disease had been most studiously
concealed three weeks constituted a train of peculiarly threatening
circumstances. There was considerable
resistance to the physicians entering every
room on the Acre with the assistance of magistrates
in bringing the sick to the hospital.
The Doctor had his way and the epidemic was stopped before
it could take a greater toll. Dr. Green
continued his vaccination campaign. He
wrote a paper on the smallpox epidemic in Lowell. He went on to be the leading physician at St
John’s Hospital for many years. A school
was even named after him for all his years of service. Surely many lives were saved by his efforts,
but reports continued throughout the century and into the next. The Sisters of Notre Dame had to close the
school for 2 months in 1870 due to an outbreak.
The Lowell Sun even reported outbreaks into the 1930s. Surely we should give a nod of thanks to Dr.
John O. Green
(As usual thanks to Walter for sharing some great research.)