Date of Award

Spring 2005

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Urban Services--Health Services

Committee Director

Clare A. Houseman

Committee Member

Joyce Hoffman

Committee Member

George C. Maihafer


In 1855, the town of Portsmouth, Virginia was devastated by an epidemic of yellow fever. Most citizens fled. Of those who remained, most became infected and a thousand died. The municipal government collapsed. In their place, a small organization known as the Portsmouth Relief Association assumed responsibility for ensuring the survival of the town. This organization managed the care of the sick, the burial of the dead, and the care of orphans. It was the sole agent receiving and allocating the funds and resources that poured into the community. Scarce food, drugs and other supplies were available only through the Association. Once the epidemic was over, the Association handed control back to the returning Common Council.

This dissertation examines the work of the Association using systems theory as described by Carter and Anderson. This theory describes individuals as being the center of ever-larger human populations (e.g., families, groups, organizations). Each population interacts with the individual, with each other and with the external environment. The context and the events of the epidemic are described. The analysis concentrates on the organizational element of the theory and uses additional sources concerning the nature of organizations to augment the theory.