Yellow Fever Epidemic
Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869
"Calamity fills our city.... Poor Maria and poor Harriet!... Left orphans at a period in life when the...care of a watchful, tender parent was most necessary...to confirm in their hearts the love of virtue.... Who can guide [them] through the many difficulties which... often obstruct a female's passage through this world of care?"
Although Gratz grew up in an observant Jewish household, many of her closest friends were not Jewish. Maria Fenno, the daughter of the prominent publisher John Fenno, was a particularly close friend and confidante of Rebecca's. The two young women often discussed their ideas about friendship, social relations, and the opposite sex. When the yellow fever epidemic of 1798 killed Maria's parents, Gratz was deeply affected. The tragedy, which was repeated in many Philadelphia homes, sensitized Gratz early to the effects of misfortune and the plight of orphans. Although Fenno moved to New York to live with relatives soon after the death of her parents, she and Gratz continued to correspond throughout their lives.
- "Calamity fills our city..." Letter from Rebecca Gratz to Rachel Gratz, September 9, 1798, Gratz Family Papers, Collection no.72 box 15. Courtesy of the The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA.