How One Gutsy Woman Worked Alone To Save Portland From the Bubonic Plague In 1907

9What they found in the docks was disgusting

Lovejoy invited the press to roam the docks with her. What they found was disgusting. The area was filthy with streets strewn with rotting garbage, rusty appliances lying around, and a lot of general trash and filth. Given the fact that already several people had died in San Francisco and Hawaii, she felt that she needed to impress upon the fact of cleaning up the area. She also had to stop the stupidity of assuming that Asians were causing the disease.

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10There was garbage and filth everywere

The amount of filth and garbage shocked everyone. Lovejoy then received support from the Board of Health who instructed the city council to take clean-up measures immediately. Lovejoy also advised the city authorities that they also needed to call in rat exterminators and an extensive movement to cleanup and cover all garbage. Food everywhere also had to be protected. The support Lovejoy received was overwhelming. She was also granted limitless funds to get things done.

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11She wanted to end the false assumption that Asians were causing it

In 1900, San Francisco authorities supported by Oregon State bacteriologist Ralph Matson ended up sealing and quarantining the Chinese community to keep the plague outbreak from spreading. In fact, Matson also said “If we cannot compel the Hindu, Chinamen and others to live up to our ideals of cleanliness and if they persist in congregating in hovels and hoarding together like animals … the strictest kind of exclusion would not be too severe a remedy.”

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12She enlisted top exterminators for the job

Lovejoy refused to believe all this and instead felt that every part of the city needed to be cleaned. Joining her in the fight to clean up the city was an exterminator Aaron Zaik who was experienced in catching rats in Seattle and New York. Lovejoy also elevated home to being a member of the heath board. Lovejoy also hit upon a novel scheme that ensured the success of the cleanup drive. She placed a bounty of 5 cents on rats exhorting the public to catch them carefully so that fleas wouldn’t leave their bodies and bring them to the city crematorium.

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13Thanks to Lovejoy, more than 200,000 lives were saved

The Plague on the West Coast disappeared by 1907 and Portland became the only city in the area to have zero cases. Said Merilee Karr from the Portland Monthly “There has still never been a case of Bubonic Plague within 100 miles of Portland.” If at all anyone should be credited with this amazing feat, it should be Esther Pohl Lovejoy.

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