In early 1877 more than 200 San Diego residents circulated and presented to city trustees a petition urging prompt and immediate action to stop the “terrible disease” which was “threatening our city from every direction.”

Epidemics of smallpox visited the San Diego region several times in the 19th century. After San Diego suffered a smallpox epidemic during the winter of 1862-63 — when the disease killed many Native Americans around the mission communities of San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, Pala and at ranchos in North County — local authorities acted quickly when smallpox threatened again, according to Leland G. Stanford, a San Diego librarian and author.

Vaccination and quarantine were the health measures deemed necessary to combat smallpox in San Diego in 1868-69,1876-77 and again in 1887.

The Jan. 30, 1877 petition read, in part:

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“To the honorable board of City Trustees of the city of San Diego.

“Your petitioners respectfully ask you to call a special meeting and take steps to at once procure the vaccination of every inhabitant of this city. We particularly call your attention to the necessity of vaccinating the Indian and Chinese population. We also ask that you procure the abatement of nuisances and take such precautionary measures as you deem expedient for the prevention of SMALL POX.

“Your petitioners deem it HIGHLY IMPORTANT that immediate steps should be taken in this matter by hour Honorable Board, as this terrible disease is threatening our City from ever direction.”

Notice of a meeting of the Board of Heath was published in The San Diego Union, Jan. 30, 1877.

Notice of a meeting of the Board of Heath was published in The San Diego Union, Jan. 30, 1877.

(The San Diego Union)

That same evening the Board of Health of the City of San Diego unanimously adopted a resolution to have the Health Officer “proceed at once to vaccinate the inhabitants of the City of San Diego” at public expense and “to do all in his judgement deemed necessary to prevent the spread of the small pox in the city of San Diego.”

One of the 204 citizens who signed the 1877 petition was San Diego Union Editor Douglas Gunn.

Before the resolution passed, Gunn published a series of front page editorials in the Union calling for “immediate and vigorous action to protect San Diego from the horrors of an epidemic of small pox.”

From The San Diego Union, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 1877:

We observe with satisfaction that the people are beginning to be properly aroused as to the importance of immediate steps to prevent the prevalence of the smallpox in this city. It is certainly time. The frightful pestilence now surrounds San Diego on all sides, and its appearance here seems to be but a question of time. With proper precautionary steps—taken at once—it can be restricted to the cases coming hither from abroad, and prevented from becoming an epidemic here, as it has in our sister towns.

It has been simply a miracle that San Diego has hitherto escaped a visit from this scourge. Now that it has re-appeared with fresh violence in San Francisco and Oakland, —and is reported not only in San Bernardino and points near our Los Angeles border; but also on the East in Yuma and Tucson,—we must act with exceeding promptness and thoroughness.

The fact that the smallpox has broken out among the Indians in San Bernardino is in itself enough to cause decided steps to be taken in this county: for it is sure to be communicated to the Indians on our side of the line. Yesterday evening a petition was circulated and largely signed asking the Board of Trustees to take prompt measures to have the whole population vaccinated.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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