Saturday, June 02, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 3

Typhoid Epidemic Hits Orphanage in Waco June, 1910

One of the outstanding successes of Texas Methodism is the Methodist Children's Home of Waco. Today it is recognized as one of the premier institutions of its kind, but its road to excellence was not without difficulty. One unfortunate episode in its history was the typhoid epidemic of 1910 in which fifty-one children at the Orphanage contracted the disease.

The Orphanage had been founded by the Northwest Texas Conference in 1890. Part of the motivation of its founding was to bring together the two factions that were warring over the Holiness Movement. In 1891 the board hired W. H. Vaughan as the administrator. He began raising money, and in 1894 David Harrison became the first resident. The Orphanage grew rapidly through the 1890's and 1900's. The other MECS conferences in Texas joined the Northwest Conference in providing support. Abe and Louisa Mulkey adopted the Orphanage as their project. Abe Mulkey was perhaps the most famous revivial preacher of the era. Louisa was a musician. Practically every week of the year the Mulkeys preached a revival service, and the offering one of those nights went to the Orphanage. Texas churches also began the practice of collecting a Christmas offering for the children in Waco.

By the time Vaughan left the administration of the Orphanage in 1908, it had grown to a 33 acre site with two brick buildings and a cottage. It also had a 169 acre farm nearby which supplied much of the children's food. Vaughan also left the Orphanage debt free with cash in the bank, a remarkable feat!

In 1908 John H. McLean was appointed administrator. (See post for April 1, 2007) McLean's tenure at the Orphanage lasted only four years and was marked by a dreadful epidemic of typhoid fever. Americans of the era were well acquainted with epidemic disease. The bacterium that causes typhoid fever, Salmonella typhi, was transmitted by ingesting food or water. The disease typically induced fevers of 104 degrees in its victims. Delirium was a common symptom, and recuperation generally took at least a month. In 1910 the US mortality rate for typhoid fever was 25 deaths/100,000 population. In the next thirty years chlorination of municipal water supplies and barring carriers from restaurant employment brought that figure down to zero deaths.

The fifty-one children who contracted typhoid fever all survived thanks to "divine mercy, careful nursing, and a skillful, attentive physician." (McLean, Reminiscences)

McLean's tenure at the Orphanage proved to be brief as compared to other administrators before and after him. (Vaughan 1891-1908, W.F. Barnett 1919-1933, Hubert Johnson 1933-1966). Some of McLean's difficulties were self-inflicted. He hired his son-in-law and put him in a position of responsibility for which he was not suited. In 1912 Bishop Mouzon appointed McLean to Wolfe City.


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