Milton and the Measles, 1900

By Muriel Bristol | July 23, 2021

A measles (rubeola) outbreak took hold in Milton and the surrounding towns beginning in the winter of 1900. Alton, Farmington, and Rochester, NH, seemed particularly hard hit in this year.

Measles is the single most contagious transmissible viral disease: about 90% of the non-immune people exposed to it will become infected. Between 1 and 3 in a 1,000 of those infected would die of it or its respiratory complications. It would be another sixty years before a vaccine became available.

LOCALS. Measles is prevalent here as well as in other towns in the state. It is a disease not to be neglected (Farmington News, February 9, 1900).

STATE NEWS. During February 238 cases of measles were reported to the Manchester board of health. (Portsmouth Herald, March 2, 1900).

WEST MILTON. Ralph Jenkins has the measles (Farmington News, March 2, 1900).

LOCALS. Measles to the right of us, measles to the left of us, measles all around us, not to say how many scores of cases in the midst of the town. Fortunately it soon passes, and with the right care there seldom are dangerous complications (Farmington News, March 9, 1900).

STATE NEWS. An epidemic of measles is raging in and around Rochester. The health department reported to the state board during the past week 70 cases (Portsmouth Herald, March 10, 1900).

WEST MILTON. Mrs. F. Davis has been ill with a cold, and Mildred has had measles (Farmington News, March 23, 1900).

WEST MILTON. One of the mill boarders at G. Canney’s has been suffering quite severely with measles (Farmington News, May 4, 1900).

The NH State Board of Health provided quarantine placards to be posted at houses and other places with infected persons.

MEASLES. Any person having measles, however mild the case may be, and all persons in a family where measles exists, except those who have had the disease, are forbidden to attend school or any public or private gathering, or to mingle with persons who have not had the disease. Persons who have not had measles are prohibited from entering these premises. All persons are strictly forbidden to remove this card without orders from the board of health. Any violation of these regulations will be punished to the fullest extent of the law. BOARD OF HEALTH (NH Department of Health, 1901).

At which point Malcolm A.H. Hart, M.D., acting in his capacity as Chairman of Milton’s Board of Health, sought clarification regarding the State measles quarantine placard, and its accompanying literature, from the Secretary of the NH State Board of Health.

MILTON, N.H., May 18, 1900

Irving A. Watson, M.D., Secretary, State Board of Health, Concord, N.H.

Hart, Malcolm A.H. - 1897DEAR DOCTOR, – Would you kindly inform me what is your recommendation relating to the prevention of the spread of measles? Literature from the state board is incomplete for guidance in this matter. In looking up authority I find the rules laid down in Hare’s “System of Therapeutics” much less exacting than those by Williams in Stedman’s “Twentieth Century Practice.” We are having occasional cases in this town this spring, and I am, of course, anxious to keep the disease in at least such control as not to affect the scholars.


(Signed) M.A. HART, M.D., For Board of Health

Dr. Irving A. Watson (1849-1918), Secretary of the NH State Board of Health, since its creation in 1881, sent the following reply.


CONCORD, N.H., May 24, 1900

M.A. Hart, M.D., Chairman, Board of Health, Milton, N.H.

Watson, Irving AllisonDEAR DOCTOR, – In reply to your favor of recent date, I would say that the State Board of Health has never issued any regulations in regard to measles other than is printed upon the placard issued from this office.

I am aware that there is a difference of opinion, as to how far restrictive measures should be carried and to what extent they are practicable and of value.

The regulation referred to should be enforced as far as possible by the local board of health. Of course a local board has the undoubted right to make such additional rules and regulations as it may deem advisable. Measles is a most difficult disease to restrain, for the reason that it is infectious in its earlier period, as you know, and it is often communicated to others before it is recognized. We are of the opinion that if the regulations referred to were more strictly enforced when the disease first appears, it might be restricted to a very large extent; but after the infection has become general throughout a village, the matter seems to be almost beyond the control of a local board of health.

We expect a local board of health to use its judgment, largely, in the matter as to what should be or may be done in addition to the regulations referred to. I do not think it necessary to close schools on account of this disease, unless it has become so general that the schools are almost certain to be infected.

Very truly yours,

(Signed) IRVING A. WATSON, Secretary

None of the forty people that died in Milton that year actually died of measles, although those that had it and survived might have incurred some long-term health problems.


Find a Grave. (2017, April 25). Dr. Irving Allison Watson. Retrieved from

Hare, Hobart A. (1901). A System of Practical Therapeutics (Volume 2). Retrieved from

NH Department of Health. (1901). Sixteenth Report of the State Board of Health of the State of New Hampshire. Retrieved from

Stedman, Thomas L. (1898). Twentieth Century Practice: Infectious Diseases (Volume 20). Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2021, June 19). Measles. Retrieved from

Author: Muriel Bristol

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