Smallpox and Xenophobia: Background information when reading Frog Music

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Frog Music

By Emma Donoghue

Frog Music
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2014,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: 1 Feb 2015,
    432 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Smallpox and Xenophobia

Frog Music is set in San Francisco in 1876, during a summer notable not only for its record-setting heat waves but also for its smallpox epidemic, one of many that plagued the United States during the nineteenth century even as efforts were being made to eradicate the disease through vaccination and inoculation. According to Donoghue's afterword, the 1876 epidemic left 482 (of the roughly 200,000 residents) dead, and more than 1,600 infected with the highly infectious and debilitating disease.

Quarantine Poster Donoghue depicts a San Francisco plagued by racism and xenophobia, in which white San Franciscans accused Chinese immigrants of spreading the disease, and in which Chinatown was seen as the epicenter of the plague. An article from the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper in May 1876 seems to address (and attempt to debunk) this prevalent argument: "the common notion, to the effect that the Chinese quarter is a special breeding-place of disease, is not warranted."

Unfortunately, the ...

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