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San Francisco Plague (1900-1904): Topics in Chronicling America

In 1900, the bubonic plague is found at San Francisco's Chinatown, leading to state quarantine. This guide provides access to materials related to the "San Francisco Plague" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"Guarding America against plague ravages." July 18, 1914. The Ogden Standard (Ogden City, UT), Image 13. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

In 1889, a newspaper reports bubonic plague, the disease which once annihilated half the population of Europe, has made its way to Hawaii. Less than a year later, the plague arrives in California and sends the entire country into a panic. Everyone from the Chinese, to the medical board, is blamed for the disease’s effects as the federal government navigates its way through the crisis. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1889 The bubonic plague strikes Honolulu, Hawaii—arriving all the way from Asia.
1900 The first reported incident of plague in the continental United States is found in the Chinese slums or “Chinatown” of San Francisco.
June 1900 California is placed under quarantine, until the Governor Henry Gage persuades the federal government to lift the ban. Newspapers speculate Gage’s protestation of the ban to be political rather than medical.
1901 - 1920 Despite Gage’s refutation, the bubonic plague begins to pose a national threat to American health—inciting great fear in the average American and large amounts of funding from the federal government to thwart the disease.