Archival (Yellow) Fever: The Letters of Kezia Payne DePelchin and E. Kate Heckle
O'Leary, Joanna Shawn Brigid
1st prize winner of the Friends of Fondren Library Graduate Research Awards, 2011.
I originally submitted “Archival (Yellow) Fever” as my final paper for Dr. Helena Michie’s graduate seminar on Victorian fiction and historicism. This paper includes my analysis of the DePelchin/Heckle materials, a collection of writings by two female nurses serving in the 1878 Mississippi Valley Yellow Fever Epidemic; a meta-reflection on my experience in the archive; and proposals for two future research projects based my preliminary research. My first project, “Narrativizing Disease,” explores how DePelchin in particular sought to establish herself as an authorial figure via elaborate literary motifs and highly stylized language. This project also investigates the possibility that both women used war metaphors in their descriptions as a means of positing the Epidemic as a new sort of battle that specifically required female “soldiers” (i.e., caregivers). “The Legacy of Infection,” the second project, in turn examines how yellow fever may have permanently “infected” a household, that is to say, changed its gender and economic hierarchies, altered power dynamics, and/or transformed the space of the home. Because DePelchin and Heckle provided detailed accounts as to how patients and families operated during the Epidemic, the task of this second project is to extend and/or resolve those narratives begun by DePelchin and Heckle by engaging in a scholarly scavenger hunt of sorts through various historical sites and archives throughout the country.