U.S. National Institutes of Health

Yellow Fever in 1793 and Today

History & Social Studies; Health Education
Three 45-minute class periods

Description: Students examine the effects of the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793, then gather information on yellow fever prevention and treatment today.

In class 1, students explore the effects of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793, beginning with two African American authors who lived through and wrote about the event. Students read about and identify various topics featured in Politics of Yellow Fever, then select one topic to research using the online exhibition and other websites. In class 2, students work in pairs to gather current knowledge and information on the cause, prevention, and treatment of yellow fever. In class 3, students share their research findings on yellow fever and consider what they can do to prevent the disease locally or globally.

At the end of this lesson plan, students will be able to:

  • Compare the views of Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Rush, who held different ideas about the cause, prevention, and treatment of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793.
  • Evaluate the importance of free African Americans’ work with the sick and dying during the outbreak, as well as its relevance today.
  • Adhere to an accepted format, such as APA (American Psychological Association) style, Chicago Manual of Style, etc., for citing sources for their research findings.
  • Assess whether a website is reliable and factual before using it as a source.
  • Outline the cause, treatment, and prevention methods for yellow fever.
  • Identify three different ways to prevent yellow fever today.

Politics of Yellow Fever in Alexander Hamilton’s America, produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, provides a multidisciplinary perspective on the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793. The online exhibition features graphic and textual primary sources with accompanying narratives, depicting how yellow fever, then without any known cause, affected the city and its citizens. The exhibition tells the story of how politics and responses to epidemics influence each other.

Prior to class, teachers are encouraged to preview the online exhibition and become familiar with the online resources listed under the Other Materials and Set-ups section, which support the lesson’s class activities. In addition, this lesson plan assumes that students have received instructions on accepted source citation styles for research notes, and how to evaluate a website’s reliability.

The following words may be introduced/incorporated into the lesson:

  • Exhibition Home: proceedings, calamity, ravage, secular, Federalist, epidemic, miasma (impure air), controversial, bleeding, purging, erroneously, quacks, infrastructure
  • Exhibition Collection: epidemic, Federalist, republican v. Republican, sparred, respective, viral infection, jaundice, symptoms, fatigue, physicians, remedies, putrid, emitted, noxious, effluvia, vein, copious, contracted, scrutiny, regimen, stance, Cinchona, quinine, Madeira, recounting, legislature, hierarchies
  • Digital Gallery: chikungunya, dengue fever, transmission, commission, colleagues, DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), pamphlet, instilled, quarantines, larvae, pestilential, allusions, malignant, coordinate, policy, auxiliary, entomologist, advocate, philanthropic, abatement, perforated, pesticide, insecticide, larvicide, typhus, Aedes aegypti, toxicology, annotated, bibliography, immune system, autopsy


  • Portraits of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen (PDF, Word)
  • Awful Calamity: Philadelphia in 1793 (PDF, Word)
  • Teacher’s Awful Calamity: Philadelphia in 1793 (PDF)
  • Yellow Fever Information (PDF, Word)
  • Teacher’s Yellow Fever Information (PDF)

Other Materials and Set-Ups:

  • A display set-up for class, such as an interactive whiteboard, a projector, or a board to display images, captions, and to record summaries, findings, or questions from class discussions.
  • Online access for each student to the following websites:

Preparation: Print copies of the essay on Politics of Yellow Fever: Exhibition Home then cut and separate paragraphs 3 to 8—i.e., one paragraph per strip. Prepare enough to provide one paragraph strip per student.

  1. Display Absalom Jones and Richard Allen. Introduce Jones and Allen by reading aloud their names as authors of A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People, during the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia, in the Year 1793.
  2. Ask students to reword Jones and Allen’s publication title in their own words—i.e., Story of the workings/works of Black people during the recent disaster in Philadelphia in 1793.
  3. Display Politics of Yellow Fever: Exhibition Home and the image of the title page of Jones and Allen’s publication. Read aloud the exhibition title and tell students that the calamity, which Jones and Allen lived through and wrote about, was an outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793
  4. Ask for a volunteer to read aloud the first two paragraphs of the essay from Exhibition Home. Restate that no one knew what caused yellow fever nor how to treat it.
  5. Hand out one paragraph strip to each student to read on their own. Assign students to read their individual paragraphs while circling and looking up any unfamiliar words.
  6. Display Awful Calamity: Philadelphia in 1793, then call students together. Have students provide information to complete the worksheet. Ask students to refer to specific sections of the text in their paragraphs to support their responses. See Teacher’s Awful Calamity: Philadelphia in 1793 for responses and suggested discussion guide.
  7. Review the completed Awful Calamity: Philadelphia in 1793, then ask students to identify one thing from the display that they want to know more about. Record their topics on the board. Have students select one topic to research during class.
  8. Provide students access to the Internet and the following research criteria for gathering more information on their selected topics:
    • Use a paper to note your research findings.
    • State your research topic on the top along with your name.
    • Use the Politics of Yellow Fever: Exhibition Collection and Digital Gallery sections and one or two additional websites.
    • Summarize your findings in a list or a paragraph.
    • Cite all sources related to your findings according to formats and styles used in the class.
    • For any additional websites used as sources, note how you assess them to be reliable and good sources.
  9. Call the class together then group students by topic to discuss their findings to clarify, correct, or expand on them.
  10. Bring groups together and have each group name its topic and summarize findings. Allow for all topics to be discussed.
  11. Highlight students’ findings about the work of African Americans during the outbreak and tie back to Jones and Allen’s publication. Post the following question and have students write their responses on an exit-ticket:
    • Do you think that it is important today that Jones and Allen wrote about the work done by African Americans during the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793? Why or why not?
  12. Collect students’ topic research notes and exit-tickets at the end of the class.
  13. Class 1 Evaluation: In addition to class and group discussions, teachers use each student’s topic research notes and exit-ticket responses for evaluating student’s reading comprehension, writing, and process skills such as critical thinking.

Preparation: Review students’ exit-tickets and topic research notes, then prepare to share exemplary exit-ticket responses and to provide guidance on good research habits—i.e., source citations, website evaluation criteria, etc.

  1. Return students’ exit-tickets and call on a couple of students to read aloud their responses. Guide a brief class discussion to confirm students’ understanding of how prejudicial assumptions and discrimination can shape harmful, untrue narratives against a group of people.
  2. Return students’ research notes and summarize the importance of evaluating and citing online sources in research. Tell students that they are to apply those research standards in gathering information on what we know about yellow fever today.
  3. Put students in pairs and distribute copies of Yellow Fever Information to all students. Review the online sources listed on the handout, modeling how to evaluate the websites as reliable and trustworthy. Address any questions before students work in pairs to gather information about yellow fever.
  4. Use the remainder of the class for student pairs to research and complete the Yellow Fever Information handout. Observe students, offer guidance, and answer any questions that come up during their research.
  5. Collect students’ Yellow Fever Information handouts and tell students that they will finish their work and present their findings next class.
  6. Class 2 Evaluation: Class discussions and collected Yellow Fever Information handouts allow teachers to evaluate students’ understanding of yellow fever in both its historical and contemporary context.

  1. Return to students their Yellow Fever Information handouts from Class 2. Based on the review and evaluation of student handouts, summarize any salient feedback based on their research work and offer additional guidelines or clarifications as needed.
  2. Have students work in pairs and finish their research and responses on their Yellow Fever Information handouts.
  3. Group three pairs together to form small discussion groups. Tell students to share and discuss their research findings then revise their responses on the handout based on any clarifications, corrections, or extension of their findings.
  4. Display Yellow Fever Information and call on a student to answer one of the questions from the handout. Guide the class discussion so that students can contextualize yellow fever and other mosquito-borne diseases locally and globally.
  5. Pose the following questions and have students write their responses on exit-tickets:
    • Why is it important for you to know facts about yellow fever?
    • What one thing can you do to help prevent yellow fever?
  6. Collect both the completed Yellow Fever Information handouts and exit-tickets from students.
  7. Class 3 Evaluation: Class discussions and collected Yellow Fever Information handouts and exit tickets can help assess students’ reading comprehension and analyses of online health information.

  1. Students use Politics of Yellow Fever: Digital Gallery and three other reliable, good online sources to create a graphic timeline display that outlines and compares various yellow fever outbreaks in the United States from 1793 to 1900.
  2. Students read Jones and Allen’s publication and write an article for a class or school newsletter about the work of African Americans during the 1793 yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia.
  3. Students work in small groups to create posters, pamphlets, public service announcement videos, or short comics that help inform and raise awareness of locally prevalent mosquito-borne diseases and prevention options.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.8: Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.

  • 1.8.3: Analyze how the environment affects personal health.
  • 3.8.1: Analyze the validity of health information, products, and services.