The Stanford community has weathered many hardships, including natural disasters, world wars, and pandemics. Relying on materials from the Stanford University Archives, Stanford Historical Society publications, Lane Medical Library, local news sources, and historical texts, the Stanford Historical Society, the Stanford University Archives, and Stanford Libraries offer this exhibition to explore these moments in history and the spirit of hope and resilience displayed by Stanford students, faculty, and leaders. These stories capture not just the transformative events and the immediate response, but the longer term impacts on Stanford, including physical changes to the campus, its programs, and its policies.
We hope this look at how the Stanford Community responded to the challenges of natural disasters, world wars, pandemics, and other unforeseen trials, will spark conversation, dialogue, and further research. We recognize that focusing on isolated events may not provide a full view of an individual’s life. It must be acknowledged that some past Stanford faculty and leaders, including some of those mentioned in this series, held and encouraged racist and ableist views through their writings and actions, which have negatively impacted people’s lives to this day.
The 2020 COVID-19 crisis is not the first time that epidemics have threatened Stanford. From its earliest days, the university experienced outbreaks of contagious diseases, including measles, smallpox, diphtheria, and typhoid. The first sizable epidemic hit Stanford in the spring of 1903, when a wave of typhoid fever struck the citizens of Palo Alto and students, faculty, and staff at the university.
The typhoid epidemic was followed by other scourges. In December 1903, only a few months after reports of typhoid at Stanford disappeared from the news, the university battled an epidemic of diphtheria. In the fall of 1904, another bout of diphtheria occurred. A small number of smallpox cases among the men in Encina Hall rattled the university in the spring of 1908, and 1910 brought with it a sizable measles outbreak.