Thomas Nast

Artist's Biography

Another "Federal Interference." The Struggle between Athena Hygeia and Yellow Jack.

Wood engraving, 1879.
Image size 19 7/8 x 13 3/8" (50.7 x 33.7 cm).
Good condition.
LOCATION: New York City

Inventory Number: 91482
Price: $125.00
Publisher : Published by Harper's Weekly. April 19, 1879.
This cartoon by Thomas Nast is about the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878, the worst case ever recorded in the Mississippi River Valley. The people at that point in time did not understand how the disease was contracted or spread and set up quarantine areas along the rivers and railroads. Being transmitted by mosquitoes, this did very little to stop its rampant escalation. What's worse, doctors had no idea how to treat those who were stricken by it. Panic spread and many thousands fled. Disease would spread with them and inflict areas further inland. Memphis alone saw more than 5,000 casualties. New Orleans was not far behind. In total it's estimated that around 120,000 people were sickened and 20,000 were killed. The epidemics toll was not just on human life, however. Many towns and cities were also devastated financially. Memphis was bankrupted.

In this cartoon the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, Athena, stabs a skeleton with the spear of "National Quarantine." This seems to speaks of the futility of America's attempt to stop the disease. In her other hand is a shield bearing the face of a gorgon, a snake-haired monster from ancient mythology. The skeleton hold the blade of "pestilence," which Athena steps on in attempt to stay it. In the distance are the devastated remains of a river town, vultures soaring around it.

The cartoon also touches on a very political matter. During the epidemic it was a battle whether federal or state governments should deal with public health issues. There were strong feelings on both sides. Here, the skeleton clings to state rights, which is written on his tombstone. It is clear Nast felt this was the wrong choice.
18th-19th Century Subjects , Caricatures and Satirical