Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bitten by a Dog Showing Rabies Symptoms, Pelham Woman Traveled to Europe to See Pasteur

After developing the process of pasteurization whereby liquids such as raw milk are boiled to kill microorganisms that might spoil the liquid or cause illness in those who consume it, French chemist and biologist Louis Pasteur turned his attention to a more thorough study of bacteria and other microorganisms.  During the 1880s, Pasteur's work as the director of scientific studies at the Ecole Normale in Paris focused on so-called germ theory and efforts to develop vaccines against some of the most prevalent diseases of the day.  Pasteur worked on a rabies vaccine, initially, by infecting rabbits with the rabies virus then, after death, drying their affected nerve tissue to weaken the virus so it could be applied as a safe vaccine.

On July 6, 1885, nine-year-old Joseph Meister was brought to Pasteur.  The young lad had been attacked by a rabid dog.  Pasteur administered his experimental vaccine to the boy who survived the ordeal and was spared a painful death from rabies.  

The world was stunned.  Pasteur became a national hero and an internationally-acclaimed scientist.  Publications throughout the world breathlessly acclaimed his success with treating the rabies virus.  People throughout the world read about his successful vaccination against the disease -- people including many who lived in the Town of Pelham, an ocean away from Paris, France.  

Among those who heard about the rabies vaccine was Mrs. John S. Ellis of the tiny settlement of Bartow-on-the-Sound in the Town of Pelham.  She was a sister of John M. Waterbury who also resided at Bartow.

Mrs. Ellis and her family had a beautiful collie as a family pet.  In the first week of January, 1887, the family collie had a fight with another local dog.  As Mrs. Ellis tried to break up the fight, her collie bit her on the hand and arm.  

She was shocked that the gentle family pet had turned on her, but attributed it to the fear and confusion of a dogfight.  As her wounds healed, however, the family pet became sick.  Soon the collie was acting mad and, shortly, it died.  Family and friends were terrified.  The dog exhibited signs of hydrophobia -- rabies!

Mrs. Ellis and her family became "greatly alarmed."  So did the local Board of Health.  A number of local dogs were killed and the Board ordered that all dogs that may have been bitten by the collie before it died were to be chained until further notice.

On Tuesday, January 4, 1887, only days after she suffered the dog bite, Mrs. Ellis and her husband boarded the Arizona and set sail for Liverpool from which they planned to travel to Paris to place Mrs. Ellis under the care of the famed Louis Pasteur who had previously saved the life of little nine-year-old Joseph Meister with his rabies vaccine.  

We may never know whether the collie did not have rabies or the rabies vaccine was administered by Louis Pasteur and saved the life of Mrs. Ellis.  We do know, however, that the following autumn, a healthy and robust Mrs. Ellis was hosting parties for members of The Country Club at Pelham. . . . . 

Louis Pasteur in His Laboratory.  A Painting by A. Edelfeldt.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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"THE COUNTY. . . .

A little over a week ago, Mrs. John S. Ellis, a sister of John M. Waterbury, who resides at Bartow, was bitten on the hand by her pet dog, while she was trying to stop him fighting with another dog.  The wound healed up and nothing more was thought of it until a couple of days afterward, when it was discovered the dog was mad.  This greatly alarmed the lady, and on Tuesday she sailed for Paris, to be treated by Pasteur.  A number of dogs have been killed, and the Board of Health has ordered that all dogs that may have been bitten by the Ellis dog, be chained."

Source:  THE COUNTY, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 7, 1887, Vol. XVIII, No. 948, p. 2, col. 4.  

"CHATTER. . . .

-- Mrs. John S. Ellis of Bartow-on Sound has gone sailing over the sea to M. Pasteur.  A pet dog, a large and hitherto gentle collie, bit her somewhat severely in the arm.  Although Mrs. Ellis felt no apprehension regarding the injury, she has yielded to the persuasions of her family, and last Tuesday with her husband and son sailed for Paris.  Mrs. Ellis is the sister of Mrs. Pierrepont Edwards, wife of the British Consul, and of Mrs. C. C. Johnstou.  Her brother is James M. Waterbury, adjoining whose magnificent country seat, 'Plaisance,' is the handsome home of the Ellises where they live the year round.  Apropos of Mr. Waterbury's superb place, Baron Selliere (he with the noble showing of $5,000,000) says it is incomparably the prettiest and most complete country seat he has ever seen, excepting, of course, the show places of England."

Source:  CHATTER, The Daily Graphic [NY, NY], Jan. 8, 1887, p. 519, cols. 1-2.  


The accident which has befallen Mrs. John S. Ellis at her home at Bartow on the Sound has cast a gloom over society in West Chester and caused grave anxiety in the Waterbury family.  The beautiful collie dog, which has been the special pet and companion of its mistress for several years, attacked her most unexpectedly a few days since and inflicted a severe wound on her arm with his teeth.  The animal soon afterward sickened and died, and Mrs. Ellis became so nervous and apprehensive that her medical adviser recommended her to go at once to Paris and put herself under Pasteur's care.  Mr. and Mrs. Ellis therefore sailed in the Arizona.  It is extremely unlikely that any serious consequences will follow, but if the patient can be persuaded in her own mind that M. Pasteur's treatment is infallible, more than half the battle will be won."

Source:  WHAT IS GOING ON IN SOCIETY, The Sun [NY, NY], Jan. 9, 1887, p. 8, col. 7 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).  

"To be Treated by Pasteur.

NEW YORK, Jan. 5. -- Mrs. John S. Ellis of Bartow-on-the-Sound, a well known society lady, sailed yesterday on the Arizona for Liverpoll and will go thence to Paris to be treated by Pasteur.  She was recently bitten by a pet dog which showed signs of hydrophobia, and while she does not apprehend danger her friends think it best to take all possible precautions."

Source:  To be Treated by Pasteur, The Daily News [Batavia, NY], Jan. 15, 1887, Vol. IX, No. 2,624, p. 1, col. 2.  See also Going to be Treated by Pasteur, Rome Daily Sentinel [Rome, NY], Vol. XV, No. 4,348, p. 3, col. 3 (same text).  


Mrs. John S. Ellis, 'The Elms,' Bartow on the Sound, will give a dance at her country place tonight.  The guests will include the prominent members of the Country Club.  Pinard will serve the supper."

Source:  SOCIETY SMALL TALK, The Evening Telegram [NY, NY] Oct. 6, 1887, p. 2, col. 4.  

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