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Top Ten Topics for 2019

Happy new year! Join our most frequent users by visiting the top ten most-read topics in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia during 2019:

10. Broad Street Bullies, by Karen Guenther

9. Immigration 1870-1930, by Barbara Klaczynska

8. Yellow Fever, by Simon Finger

7. Native American-Pennsylvania Relations, 1681-1753, by Michael Goode

6. March of the Mill Children, by Gail Friedman

5. Boxing and Boxers, by Matthew Ward

4. Immigration and Migration (Colonial Era), by Marie Basile McDaniel

3. Row Houses, by Amanda Casper

2. Medicine (Colonial Era), by Martha K. Robinson

And the most-read topic for 2019 is ...

1. Native America-Pennsylvania Relations, 1754-89, by Timothy J. Shannon

Thank you for reading, and watch for more new topics in 2020!

Milestone: 650 Topics Published

We're pleased to announce that The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia has reached a new milestone of 650 topics published online. The 650th topic, published on December 27, 2019, is Turnpikes, written by the encyclopedia's Editor in Chief, Charlene Mires.

Our publishing during 2019 was supported by generous contributions by individual donors, including those who gave during our annual one-day fund-raiser on Rutgers Giving Day. Watch for your next opportunity to contribute on March 25, 2020--the next Rutgers Giving Day--or add your support any time by using the link on our home page. Thank you!

Fever 1793 (Novel)

Published in 2000, Fever 1793 is a young adult novel that tells the story of a 14-year-old girl named Mattie Cook, who fights to survive the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia. The historical novel by Laurie Halse Anderson (b. 1961) depicts 1793 America through the eyes of Mattie, who, when the fever hits in late August, struggles to live in a city overtaken by fear. Demonstrating the ongoing alarm over unknown illnesses during this time, Fever 1793 provides a sense of the daily life of Philadelphians in the early national period. The novel demonstrates the historical significance of the epidemic, which took an estimated five thousand lives, and gives readers a glimpse of public health crises and medical treatments available in the eighteenth century.

[caption id="attachment_34428" align="alignright" width="201"]Photograph of Laurie Halse Anderson Laurie Halse Anderson, a New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, engages young readers from the perspectives of young, marginalized voices. This photograph was taken in 2006. (American Library Association via Flickr)[/caption]

Anderson, a New York Times best-selling author of the award-winning young adult novels Speak (1999) and Chains (2008), conceived the idea for Fever 1793 after reading a newspaper article about the yellow fever epidemic while her family was stuck in traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, driving into Philadelphia. Anderson then lived in the city and worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Always interested in historical fiction, she began research in 1993 for Fever 1793 by examining primary sources at the Historical Society of Philadelphia and consulting historians at Independence National Historical Park and the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians.

Before completing and publishing Fever 1793 with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2000, Anderson published two children’s books, Ndito Run and Turkey Pox, both in 1996, and Speak, which became a National Book Award finalist adapted into a 2004 film starring Kristen Stewart (b. 1990). In 2001 Anderson published another children’s book, The Cheese on 3rd Street, also set in Philadelphia. In many of her novels, she writes from the perspective of teenagers and children, often the marginalized. With Fever 1793 and her other works of historical fiction, like the trilogy Seeds of America, Anderson developed a reputation for writing novels that address challenging topics and engage young readers.

Rumors of the Fever

In Fever 1793, Mattie Cook lives with her mother, grandfather, and a family cook named Eliza. She helps with her family’s coffeehouse, originally built by her now-deceased father. Toward the beginning of the novel, Mattie argues with her mother because she wants to be treated as an adult rather than a child. While facing this issue, Mattie and her family begin to hear rumors of the fever spreading throughout Philadelphia. At first the townspeople, including Mattie’s grandfather, are not alarmed and believe it will be like other fevers during previous summers. However, as the death toll begins to rise, Mattie and her family discover the overwhelming danger of the plague.

To avoid the sickness, Mattie leaves the city with her grandfather. They travel to the Pennsylvania countryside, only to be denied entrance because of their fever symptoms. Fighting off dangers and the fever itself, Mattie must persevere and make it back to Philadelphia to find her family. In the fight for her survival, she discovers how to care for others while also achieving the maturity she eagerly sought. Mattie’s character demonstrates the power of perseverance and determination in the face of sickness and sometimes death, and readers experience some of the dangers of illness in eighteenth-century America from a child’s perspective.

Throughout the novel, Anderson describes Philadelphia of the 1790s, when the city served as capital of the United States. She portrays the effects of the rampant fever in Philadelphia as well as important historical landmarks such as Christ Church and influential people like Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), who advocated bloodletting patients in an effort to cure them. She quotes archival accounts of the fever and writes about places like Bush Hill, an estate used as a hospital for those affected by the fever. In the novel, Mattie finds herself at the mansion, where she learns about the French doctors’ methods, which were more effective than some approaches of American doctors. Anderson also uses the character Eliza to recount the important acts of the Free African Society, founded by Richard Allen (1760-1831) and Absalom Jones (1746-1818). Readers see how this society assisted people affected by the fever by bringing resources, burying the dead, and caring for orphaned children.

Recommended by the publisher for grade levels 5-9 (ages 10-14), Fever 1793 has often been assigned in schools following widespread, favorable reviews that called attention to its potential uses in the classroom. Publisher’s Weekly emphasized the quality of its research, useful for students studying eighteenth-century America. A review for junior and senior high school librarians in the journal Book Report suggested teachers could pair the novel with a historical-fiction unit and identified it as essential for every school library. In The New York Times Book Review, Constance Decker Thompson wrote that Anderson tells a “gripping” story that “rages like the epidemic itself.”

Fever 1793 encourages readers to envision a significant time in Philadelphia's history. The novel introduces students to research using primary sources and nonfiction texts, correlates with subjects such as history and science, and promotes discussion of contemporary issues related to health and medicine. Mattie’s character development and the historical context of the novel give readers a glimpse into eighteenth-century Philadelphia during a deadly time that most could otherwise never have imagined.

Megan Walter is completing her M.A. in English at Rutgers University-Camden. While in elementary school, she wrote her first-ever book report on Fever 1793 and the historic significance of the epidemic. After receiving her B.A. in English Education, she assigned the novel to her own students while teaching high school English at a public school near Richmond, Virginia.

Megan Walter

Megan Walter is completing her M.A. in English at Rutgers University-Camden. While in elementary school, she wrote her first-ever book report on Fever 1793 and the historic significance of the epidemic. After receiving her B.A. in English Education, she assigned the novel to her own students while teaching high school English at a public school near Richmond, Virginia.

Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia)

In “Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia),” Philadelphia poet and playwright Sonia Sanchez (b. 1934) questions the paradoxical nature of a city that seemingly set itself and its people ablaze. Written in response to the 1985 police bombing of the radical group MOVE and the subsequent fire that occurred on the 6200 block of Osage Avenue, Philadelphia, the poem aims to critique not only the police response to MOVE, but also the biased coverage of the organization by the media, which Sanchez perceives to be partially to blame for the bombing.

[caption id="attachment_34406" align="alignright" width="230"]Photograph of Sonia Sanchez Sonia Sanchez, photographed here in Washington, D.C., on March 9, 2019, is an award-winning poet, playwright, activist, children’s author, and professor. Sanchez has written more than a dozen books of poetry and earned the title of Philadelphia’s first poet laureate in 2011. (Photograph by John Matthew Smith/www.celebrity-photos.com via Flickr)[/caption]

Sanchez, an African American poet, playwright, children’s author, activist, and professor, was born on September 9, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama. After moving to Harlem, New York, during the 1950s Sanchez became involved with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights organization. Through this group, Sanchez met Malcolm X (1925-65), who influenced her curt but passionate poetic style. Sanchez also met other prominent civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68) while he was on a book tour in 1957. Sanchez’s involvement with influential civil rights leaders and activists led her to become a foundational member of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. A majority of Sanchez’s work, especially 1969’s Homecoming and 1970’s We a BaddDDD People, displays a deep connection with black heritage and community. She moved to Philadelphia in 1976, just nine years before the events of May 13, 1985.

Sanchez’s activism continued to influence her work into the 1980s. Although Sanchez wrote “Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia)” (sometimes titled “Elegy: For MOVE and Philadelphia”) in response to the 1985 tragedy, the poem was not published until 1987 as a part of Sanchez’s seventh poetry collection, Under a Soprano Sky (1987). Sanchez waited to release the poem in an effort to not appear accusatory.

“Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia)” is a free-verse poem written in eight numbered sections, with eleven stanzas of varying lengths. Sanchez adopts the form of an elegy in order to mourn the eleven deaths and extensive destruction that resulted from the bombing of Osage Avenue. The poem begins with a description of Philadelphia as a city with “southern” racial attitudes hiding behind its northeastern locale, then quickly moves to the fire, death, and destruction that resulted from the bombing. “Elegy” focuses particularly on the tragic impact that the bombing had on black Philadelphia because of perceptions of MOVE as part of the Black Power movement. Additionally, Osage Avenue (referred to as “osage st” in the poem) is located in West Philadelphia, a section of the city that became heavily populated by African Americans during the 1950s.

As the poem continues, it assigns the reader two roles: bystander and reporter. As a bystander, the reader is urged to bear witness to the horrors of the fire firsthand; then, sardonically, the poem asks the reader in the role of the reporter to cover the story in a passive, underhanded way. “Elegy” ends in a sermonlike call to acknowledge the “beyond”—a reminder that a city is more than its tourist destinations and traditions; a city is also its people. The poem acts as both a lament and a memorial, encouraging the reader to remember the tragic aspects of the bombing, despite the more appealing aspects of Philadelphia’s cultural heritage.

Critics praised Under a Soprano Sky and “Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia)” for Sanchez’s commitment to a variety of poetic styles, such as haiku, sonku, and tanka, as well as her incorporation of blues and jazz culture into her writing. Recognizing that the content of “Elegy” made people uncomfortable at first, Sanchez did not read the poem publicly until three years after the bombing. She then chose to read the poem at a gathering in Philadelphia. Sanchez performed the poem again in a 1990 episode of the PBS series A Moveable Feast: Profiles of Contemporary Authors (1990-1991). In the recorded reading, Sanchez emphasized the sermonlike quality of “Elegy” and the historical significance of poetry that emerges from tragedies like the MOVE bombing. Events like the MOVE bombing are “part of our [Philadelphia’s] history and it must be recorded in some fashion,” she said. “Not just the report, but also the poetry that records something that is terrible. … So therefore, we as people who live in Philadelphia must never let this happen again, you see. So, it [the poem] becomes part of history. It becomes a historical document also too.”

Later, in 2011, Mayor Michael Nutter (b. 1957) appointed Sanchez as Philadelphia’s first poet laureate in recognition of her ability to define the City of Brotherly Love in both its beauty and disgrace. In “Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia),” Sanchez memorialized the cultural and historical significance of the MOVE bombing so that it would not be forgotten.

Laurene Munyan is a high school English teacher in southern New Jersey. She is currently an M.A. candidate studying English at Rutgers University-Camden.  

Laurene Munyan

Laurene Munyan is a high school English teacher in southern New Jersey. She is currently a M.A. candidate studying English at Rutgers University-Camden.

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