It is rare to come across an item in Sherman Library’s collections that relates to current events as clearly as the letter I discovered yesterday. When Sherman Library temporarily closed, on March 17, one of the tasks I set for myself while working from home was to organize a collection of letters from Lucy Sherman, the sister of Moses H. Sherman, for whom Sherman Library & Gardens is named. These letters date from the 1870s and 1880s when Lucy lived in Prescott, Arizona and provide insights into life in that community.
The letter is a reminder that, while COVID-19 is new, our ancestors also had to deal with pandemics. The letter was sent by Lucy Sherman to her future husband, Eli P. Clark. A transcription of the letter appears after the images.
My Dear –
I had expected to attend Henrietta’s funeral to-day. Mr. Bashford’s people invited me to ride with them to the grave. Since then Lillie has been here. Dr. Lincoln has informed her father that this sickness in town is the worst kind of malignant Scarlet Fever. That it is carried from one to another in the clothes. Consequently Mr. Bashford’s people remained at home. Mrs. Bashford also advised me to remain at home as I have a cold. They are my sentiments exactly.
I do hope you will be so careful and not get sick. You know I am just a little interested in your welfare (?)
We have no more school for the present. I intend going to Mrs. Otis’s to-morrow morning. Mr. Roberts comes here in the morning to commence work. Brother is ready to go downtown and I cannot write more. When may I expect to see you! I am sure I should like to see [you] right now.
Forget not your,
L. H. Sherman
The letter is undated; however, it is reasonable to assume Lucy wrote it on March 9, 1877, the day of the funeral for seven-year-old Henrietta Behan. The Weekly Arizona Miner reported in the March 9 edition, “The funeral of little Henrietta Behan, at 2 o’clock this afternoon, opened afresh the fountains of grief in the breasts of her friends.” The newspaper did not include her cause of death, although it might have been scarlet fever.
The previous edition of the paper published a purported remedy for small pox and scarlet fever, which it said would cure both diseases within twelve hours, suggesting the epidemic had already started. The March 16 issue of The Weekly Arizona Miner included a notice that the Prescott Public School would not reopen until March 26, “to give time for the fear of scarlet fever to entirely subside.” There is little in the written record to indicate how many of the approximately 1,800 people living in Prescott in 1877 were infected during the outbreak. It must have been a tumultuous time for everyone.
Lucy Sherman and Eli Clark both survived, and exactly three years and one month after Lucy wrote her letter, she and Eli married on April 9, 1880. In 1891, the couple moved with their children to Los Angeles, where Eli worked with M. H. Sherman to develop land and build railroads.
When the current situation ends, Sherman Library will reopen. In the meantime, please do as Lucy did: stay well and at home if you can.
Paul Wormser, Library Director