Robert Heinrich Herman Koch
(1843 – 1910)
March 24th Wednesday This morning made a call in the other
part of the house, while there I was sent for Augusta came here
and staid untill half past eleven. this afternoon
she came again and we went into Mrs Witherells for
an hour or two. We went into the office when Mr Swain
went to his tea, brought some Ploughmans from the office
chamber to look over Spent the evening at Mr Joel Randalls
Since 1992, March 24 has been commemorated around the globe as World Tuberculosis Day. The date commemorates the discovery of the cause of a disease that has scourged the world since ancient times. On March 24, 1882, thirty years after Evelina wrote about her day in her diary, the brilliant German microbiologist Dr. Robert Koch presented to the medical community his finding that tuberculosis – also known as “consumption,” the “white plague,” and phythsis – was caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. His discovery changed the world, and earned him a Nobel Prize.
In 1852, no one knew what caused consumption. If anything, people believed that it was a hereditary disease that attacked those with weak constitutions. No one realized that it was contagious, an ignorance that lead to its spread everywhere, especially in urban areas with crowded living conditions. The disease was often, but not invariably, fatal.
Easton may have been a country town, but it was just as vulnerable to tuberculosis as any urban area. In fact, in Easton, just the day before Evelina’s diary entry, a 55 year-old housewife named Silence Macomber died of the disease. Of 47 deaths in Easton in 1852, consumption led the list; Mrs. Macomber was one of eight residents that year to die from it. All but one of the eight were women.
Tuberculosis has not been eradicated. Third World countries, especially, are still vulnerable despite great advances in prevention and treatment. In the 21st century, it’s still a disease to fear, just as Evelina and her contemporaries did.