The Year Was 1875

The year was 1875 and the United States was still struggling through the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War. There was much debate about the roles that African Americans would play in society and what rights they had as far as social equality. One of the last acts of the outgoing Republican Congress in 1875 was the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in public facilities like hotels, places of transportation, and other private businesses. The law was largely unenforced though and in 1883 it was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Some were allowing equal rights to African Americans, even before the Civil Rights Act was passed. An article in The Constitution of Atlanta, Georgia, dated 31 March 1875, decried George Pullman’s decision to allow African Americans to travel in his famous sleeping cars.

African Americans did score some wins during Reconstruction. With the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote without regard to race, twenty African Americans were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and two to the U.S. Senate. But attacks on African Americans throughout the South by militant organizations like the Ku Klux Klan made these few advances pale in comparison to the terror and continued repression that African Americans faced.

Despite the development of the smallpox vaccine in 1796, by 1875 the world still struggled against the disease. In countries that had laws requiring vaccination, like England, Scotland, Sweden, and Bavaria, the mortality rate was a third of what it was in countries that did not.

In France, flooding along the Garonne and Tarn rivers killed an estimated one thousand people and devastated the city of Toulouse and many villages that were located along the river. The New York Times of 11 July 1875 reported that,

“Five miles from Toulouse is the village of Fenouillat, which contained a population of between 800 and 900, and was composed of some 400 buildings of all sorts; but only three houses remain of all that was once Fenouillat. The whole town was swept away in a night.”

On 18 August 1875 a flood also hit the city of Waterbury, Connecticut. In a strange twist of fate, exactly eighty years later in 1955, another flood would inundate that same aptly named city.

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