Beyond Statistics: Living in a Pandemic

The Tenement Museum honors those lost to the COVID-19 virus. May we learn about their lives and keep them in our memory.

Often, our understanding of contagious disease is shaped by the big picture—statistics, patterns, and summaries from public health officials. We need to look closer and find the stories of individuals who live with these illnesses, past and present. Who are they, and what are their experiences? What can their stories tell us about the understanding of sickness, and government response to public health crises, in their time?

This exhibit will trace the stories of five former residents of the Museum’s tenement buildings who lived with, and ultimately died from, contagious disease. We’ll highlight sources from three different eras to see what we can learn about these people and their experience with contagious disease. We’ll trace how their experiences were shaped by scientific knowledge, housing options, and judgements on newcomers that often blamed them for the diseases they suffered. We’ll also map community response—how did people organize, help each other, and fight for better public health response for immigrant and marginalized communities?

This digital exhibit is designed to be viewed sequentially, but for those of you who would like to jump around, you can access each section using the exhibit map link below and in the top left corner of each page. You’ll also find a bonus section featuring a timeline of contagious disease in New York City.