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Lowell: A Friend of the People The Typhoid Epidemic of 1890-91

The Exhibit, Researcher, & Acknowledgements


The exhibit contains copies of original newspaper accounts of the epidemic, as well as interviews with mill overseers and William Sedgwick.  The large map from 1890 is a copy of the original, indicating in red where each case of typhoid was located in the city. The map of North Chelmsford shows the location of the wool scouring mill and foundry to Stony Brook and the Merrimack River.  The photos show Moore's Mill, the brook and the river.  There is a copy of a placard (in several languages) warning the mill workers about the canal water A copy of Lowell's system of canals is also included in the exhibit. Weekly death notices from the period October 1890 - February 1891, copies of minutes from the Lowell Water Board (1890-91), advertisements placed by physicians and medicine companies during the epidemic, and local statistics of the disease for the period, make up the remainder of the exhibit.


Helene Desjarlais has lived in Lowell for over twenty years and is currently Director of Educational Services and Publications for the Merrimack Repertory Theatre.  She became interested in the Lowell typhoid epidemic of 1890-91 because of the many parallels between this aspect of Lowell's history and MRT's production of Henrik lbsen's "An Enemy of the People." Ibsen's thought-provoking and powerful classic, written in 1882, is a timely and universal work that deals with issues of water pollution, public opinion, industry and economy.

      Helene was particularly interested in the choices made by town leaders (Lowell and Kirsten Springs [in Ibsen's work]), and in an important aspect of Lowell's working people in the late 1800's:  how the environment of the canals and the river affected their health and their very lives.

     MRT's production can be seen from March 15 through April 6.


Peter Alexis, Pollard Memorial Library  
Martha Mayo, University of Lowell Center for Lowell History  
Walter Hickey

City of Lowell  
Lowell Historic Preservation Commission  
Lowell Historical Society

This exhibit has been partially funded through  
Cultural Program Support from the  
Lowell Historic Preservation Commission.