This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fever 1793" by Laurie Halse Anderson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why is Bush Hill important in Fever 1793? How did Bush Hill change from when Matilda remembered it?
In Fever 1793, Bush Hill was a dangerous place that was purchased by a rich businessman and converted into a hospital for those sick with yellow fever. Matilda had to spend time there with her grandfather while recovering from yellow fever.
Continue reading to learn what Bush Hill was like in Fever 1793.
The Hospital at Bush Hill in 1793
In Fever 1793, the city of Philadelphia had turned Bush Hill into a hospital for those with fever when the disease first spread. Rumors of criminals preying on the sick and bodies piling up were heard all over the city. Before 1793, Bush Hill was a dangerous place, and Matilda wanted to get herself and Grandpa out of there. She tried to stand, but Bridget helped her back down.
Bush Hill had changed, Bridget said. A wealthy French businessman named Stephen Girard had purchased the place and cleared out the riff raff and disreputable employees. He fixed the place up and brought in a real team of French doctors, nurses, medicine, and food. It was a proper hospital now. Both Matilda and Grandpa knew of Mr. Girard from the coffeehouse, and Grandpa greatly admired him. He was an astute businessman, with a hand in many ventures around Philadelphia.
Bridget said they were lucky to be there. The French doctors knew how to treat the fever, not like Dr. Rush, whose bloodletting strategy was believed to make people worse. The mention of bloodletting reminded Matilda of Dr. Kerr’s treatment of her mother. She became agitated. What had happened to her mother?
Grandpa went to the house after arriving at Bush Hill, but it was boarded up. They’d been gone for five days, and he assumed Lucille had traveled to the country to meet them. He sent a letter to the Ludingtons and expected to hear back anytime now. At this news, Matilda relaxed and fell back to sleep. She would be at Bush Hill for eight more days.
Matilda Recovers at Bush Hill
Bush Hill was both a blessing and a curse for Matilda. She was hospitalized for 10 days before she made a turn for the better. Each day, stories of terror swirled around her. People spoke of a small child found clinging to his mother’s dead body; a dying man begging for water from his bedroom window; thieves who stole from the sick and dead; and angels who helped out of the goodness of their hearts. People spoke of patients losing their minds, and within her own ward, people screamed in agony.
Matilda tried to block it all out. She listened just enough to hear news of her mother, Eliza, or Nathaniel, but that news never came. Once recovered, Matilda was moved out of the ward and into the barn. The barn smelled like horses and manure, but it was pristine inside and cool from the stone walls. Matilda was grateful to be away from the sick and suffering.
Grandpa came to visit her in Bush Hill often. He was camping in the back yard and helping with the efforts however he could. He delivered food, burned mattresses, and raised money. The work made him feel useful and important, like he’d felt during the war.
Matilda was sleeping through the night again, but each morning she wondered about her mother, who still hadn’t written back. Matilda was sure that her recovery meant her mother had also recovered. But where was she? Matilda also wondered about Eliza, but she had no idea how to find her.
Each day brought more strength and questions about Matilda’s future. On Day 6 in the barn, a man came to answer that question. He was transferring her to the city orphanage. Matilda flipped at this news, and Bridget ran to get Grandpa.
The man seemed upset that Matilda had family. He tried to talk Grandpa into sending Matilda to the orphanage, saying that she’d be safe there, but Grandpa wouldn’t budge. He told the man to get out before he reported him to the president. After the man left, Grandpa fell into a coughing spell. Both Matilda and Bridget watched with horror, but he laughed it off. He said they couldn’t get rid of him that easily.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Fever 1793 summary :
- What the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 in Philadelphia looked like
- How this epidemic exposed the vulnerability of everyone, including the wealthy
- How an epidemic can impact a young person