The Year Was 1900

The year was 1900 and in China resentment over European involvement in various key areas of the country was growing. A secret religious society called the Boxers (also known as the “I Ho Ch’uan” or the “Righteous and Harmonious Fists”), began a bloody series of attacks on Chinese Christians and foreigners and eventually took over the city of Peking (Beijing). An international force, including the U.S., France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, Japan, and Great Britain eventually quelled the Boxer Rebellion and China was forced to pay $333 million in damages and open further trading with these countries.

In Canada, a fire that began in the town of Hull, fueled by high winds, blew across the Ottawa River. When it was over, more than 14,000 people were homeless, and property damage estimates topped $100,000,000.

The weather that year was the cause of another disaster, when a hurricane struck Galveston and killed more than 6,000 people. Led by Clara Barton, the Red Cross came to the aid of the city, establishing an orphanage for storm victims and helping to rebuild the area.

In London, disease rather than weather was the cause of disaster, and a major influenza epidemic threatened the supply of coffins.

In San Francisco, a ship from Hong Kong was quarantined after it arrived with two cases of the bubonic plague, or “black death,” on board. Although there was no immediate effect, it is believed that rats from the ship eventually caused an outbreak in the city. Efforts to confine the disease centered on Chinatown, which was for a time quarantined. By 1904, the disease had claimed 122 lives and following the earthquake in 1906, a second epidemic followed, fed by unsanitary conditions in the refugee camps and by displaced rats. A rat-catching campaign successfully ended the epidemic in 1909.

Honolulu, Hawaii, which officially became a U.S. territory in 1900, was also fighting the plague, which first appeared in 1899. Because the disease had been ravaging China and India, here too, focus was centered around the city’s Chinatown district. Unsanitary conditions had created a breeding ground for the disease, and on New Year’s Eve the health department began burning buildings where the contagion had been found. On 20 January, a hot spot for the disease was targeted, but this time the fire raced out of control, completely wiping out Chinatown. Although the fire succeeded in wiping out the conditions that fed the epidemic, it displaced the district’s residents, many of whom were forced to live in camps until lodging was found.

In Alaska, on the heels of the Klondike Gold Rush, more gold was discovered on the beaches of Nome in 1899, and by 1900 an influx of gold-seekers had arrived in Nome from the Yukon, and by ship from Seattle and San Francisco. It’s estimated that at its peak, the population of Nome reached 20,000, and according to the 1900 U.S. Federal Population Census one-third of the white population of Alaska lived in Nome. 

For more information on events of the year 1900, see the website of the PBS documentary, America, 1900. 

3 thoughts on “The Year Was 1900

  1. Just want to say how much appreciated these articles are. I pick a year that a certain relative was born and looking up that year, it is great to visualize these things going on at the same time this particular person was born. This is the year my maternal grandmother was born. Lots going on then and they had no clue, likely.

  2. I think this is wonderful history. I can add these little bits of information to the year that my family was born. Lets everyone know what was happening that year…I just love this!!!

    Thank you

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