Eradication: Second Outbreak of Bubonic Plague in San Francisco


Eradicating Plague from San Francisco

Until September 15, the San Francisco History Center is hosting an exhibition documenting the bubonic plague in San Francisco. The exhibit, Quarantine & Eradication: Plague in San Francisco, highlights how San Francisco reacted and responded to the bubonic plague outbreaks in 1900 and in 1907. Continuing from the blog post on San Francisco's quarantine on Chinatown during the first outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco, this post will highlight the second outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco. Similar to the first bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco, there were mixed reactions - including denial and calling it the "fake plague."


As Susan Craddock notes in City of Plagues: Disease, Poverty, and Deviance in San Francisco,
“The second epidemic in San Francisco was different for a number of reasons. First, the role of the flea and the rat in plague’s epidemiology was fully understood. Second, the demographics of disease victims were almost mirror-opposite the first epidemic: virtually all cases and fatalities involved whites. Third, the context in which the disease arose and thrived was the Earthquake and Fire of April 1906, after which much of the city burned or lay in rubble. Because the epidemiology of plague was better known in 1907, and because the victims were white, the public health campaign and the discourses informing it were of a different nature. Scientific method was invoked as the fundamental principles in the fight against the disease, and this translated into an unprecedented medical control over space as the macro- and mircorgeographies of the city were combed for infected rodents, and the social and economic practices of individuals were combed for infected rodents, and the social and economic practices of individuals were tightly monitored for their bacillus-breeding potential."

Timeline on San Francisco's Second Bubonic Plague Outbreak:

Apr 18, 1906
Relief Camp 8 Lobos, July 28, 1907
Earthquake and fires roar through San Francisco

May - September, 1907
In May, bubonic plague returned to San Francisco. The first case reported was in the earthquake refugee shacks, Lobos Camp. By September, twenty-four new cases of plague are reported throughout city

September 1907
Over the next eighteen months, 160 cases reported, 78 deaths (primarily all Caucasians - dispelling the myth of the plague’s origin in race, filth and cramped living spaces)

1907 - 1909
A war on the bacillus-carrying rats was declared and elicited a campaign enthusiastically supported. San Francisco women were key leaders in the campaign, specifically in cleaning up the San Francisco Unified School District schools.

Mar 31, 1909
Dr. Rupert Blue is honored for eradicating plague at dinner in Fairmont Hotel

Eradicating Plague from San Francisco

Top archival resources to explore in the San Francisco History Center on the second outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco:

Citizens’ Health Committee Bubonic Plague Scrapbook, Book I, 1908. Compiled by Citizens’ Health Committee. Bubonic Plague, San Francisco Ephemera Collection
Board of Health Minutes, August 1907

San Francisco Unified School District Press Clippings Scrapbook, volume 5, March - September 1908. San Francisco Unified School District Records (SFH 3)

San Francisco Municipal Reports, 1907 – 1908. San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Published by Order of the Board of Supervisors

The Campaign against Plague in San Francisco, California, circa 1909 by Rupert Blue, M.D. (SFH 397)

Board of Health Minutes, May 17, 1906-March 24, 1908. San Francisco Board of Health. San Francisco Department of Public Health Records (SFH 63) 


Use your San Francisco Public Library card to search full-text articles in the San Francisco Chronicle Historical database, 1865 - current. The California Digital Newspaper Collection includes the San Francisco Call (free, open access).


We invite you to visit the exhibit and the San Francisco History Center to learn more about this unforgettable event in San Francisco’s history.

Quarantine & Eradication: Plague in San Francisco runs from July 7 - September 15 at the Main Library, Skylight Gallery on the 6th floor.

This exhibition is occurring in conjunction with the Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic project. This interdisciplinary research project led by social anthropologist, Dr. Christos Lynteris, based at University of Cambridge's Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences & Humanities (CRASSH), is funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant (under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme/ERC grant agreement no 336564).





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