In August of 1878, Memphis was struck with its most disastrous Yellow Fever epidemic. The Howard Association, a volunteer group of young businessmen, organized a medical corps to help the devastated city.
Volunteer physicians and nurses came from all over the country to treat the thousands of disease victims. Many stayed at the Peabody Hotel, the only hotel to stay open during the epidemic. Each physician was assigned to a district where they often started their rounds at dawn.
There were no drug stores still open, so each doctor carried his own medicines and instruments in mule carts. Doctors were known to see up to 150 patients in a single day, then meet at night to compare notes and perform autopsies, trying to find a cause for the disease.
With such a relentless routine, it's not surprising that so many of these courageous volunteers fell ill and died of the fever.
A recent book, The American Plague, by Memphian Molly Caldwell Crosby, tells of the horrors and heroism of the Yellow Fever epidemic.