NPT Hosts Free ‘Newtown’ Indie Lens Pop-Up Screening in March

Join us Tuesday, March 14, for a free Indie Lens Pop-Up screening of Newtown, a powerful documentary that explores the aftermath and resilience of a community devastated by trauma. The event takes place in the Nashville Downtown Public Library auditorium (615 Church St., 37219) and begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. The screening begins at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a discussion with panelists Keith King, community relations manager, Alive Hospice; and Beth Joslin Roth, executive director of Safe Tennessee Project. NPT’s LaTonya Turner will serve as moderator.

Newtown Trailer from Mile22 on Vimeo.

Newtown is Kim A. Snyder’s film about the aftermath of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. Through poignant interviews with parents, siblings, teachers, doctors, and first responders, Newtown documents a community still reeling from the senseless killing, fractured by grief but driven toward a sense of purpose.

To learn about NPT’s free screenings and other events, please check wnpt.org/events. Newtown airs on Independent Lens on Monday, April 3, at 8 p.m.

 

As on ‘Mercy Street,’ Artists Documented the Civil War in Tennessee

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Lisette Beaufort (Lyne Renee). Credit: Courtesy of PBS/Erik Heinila

The second season of Mercy Street introduces the character of French anatomy artist Lisette Beaufort. Her primary job at the hospital is to create illustrations of patient wounds and medical procedures for publication in medical instruction books, but she also records poignant moments for the people of Mansion House. This character reminds us how important sketch artists were during the Civil War and that the advent of photography did not decrease the demand for them.

Photography was very much in its infancy in 1860. Studio portraits only became practical and affordable in the mid-1840s with the improvement of the daguerreotype, which recorded light on a chemically coated copper plate. These photographs required painfully long exposure times for the subjects, and the expensive equipment and toxic chemicals kept photography a commercial enterprise (home photography technology did not evolve until the late-19th century). Also, these photographs were one-of-a-kind and could not be easily reproduced.

By the mid-1850s, the advent of wet plate photography upgraded the process and reduced exposure times. As the “wet plate” label suggests, this process required that the plates be developed quickly, as a result photographers needed to have chemicals nearby to create a successful image. Ambrotypes (images on glass) and tintypes (images on iron) followed, but it was the carte de visite that really thrust photography into mainstream America. The carte de visite, which is French for “visiting card,” was printed on small paper cards and was affordable for most people. The prints could be mailed without fear of breaking, and multiple copies could be produced. Most surviving Civil War-era photographs in the Tennessee State Museum’s collection are carte de visites or tintypes.

Despite these advances, the whole nature of taking a photograph during this time was very cumbersome, thus most photographs were produced in studios. Photographers who shot streetscapes and battlefields, such as the famous war photographer Matthew Brady, traveled with portable darkrooms to develop the images on site. Unlike today when a scene can be captured quickly by whipping out a cell phone, Civil War photography was not adept at capturing fleeting moments and it was mainly through artists’ sketches that the general public saw the Civil War.

Fort Donelson POWs by Alexander Simplot, 2014.128.2

The Tennessee State Museum’s collection of Civil War sketches generally falls into two categories: illustrations produced by professional artists for print media and soldier art. The drawing below was created by Alexander Simplot, who covered the Civil War for Harper’s Weekly Magazine. Simplot traveled with the Union Army and was present when Confederates surrendered at Fort Donelson northwest of Nashville on February 16, 1862. This drawing presumably depicts two Union soldiers guarding 10 captured Confederate soldiers.

Nashville Female Academy by A.E. Matthews, 78.29.14

Another example is this color lithograph depicting the Nashville Female Academy when it was being used as a barracks for the 51st Ohio Volunteers during Union Army occupation. The lithograph was created from a soldier’s drawing and provides one of the best images of this elite Nashville educational institution that was located close to where the downtown YMCA is today.

 

 

 

The museum recently acquired this excellent piece of soldier art depicting the railroad bridge above Running Water Creek in Whiteside Valley, Marion County, near Chattanooga. It was drawn by Charles Waizenegger, a soldier with the 75th Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry. In many cases, drawings like this fill important gaps of the Civil War landscape where photographers failed to tread. Fortunately, soldiers and professional artists used their talents in Civil War Tennessee to record some important moments and landscapes.

Railroad Bridge in Marion County by Charles Waizenegger, 2013.94.1

New Season of NPT’s Emmy Award-Winning ‘A Word on Word’ Series Begins

A new season of A Word on Words premieres on air on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 10:26 a.m., and is available online at awordonwords.org and the NPT Arts Connection YouTube channel. The second season opener features Nashville author Ann Patchett interviewed at her bookstore, Parnassus Books, by Mary Laura Philpott (who also handles social media for the bookstore).

Ann Patchett (left) and host Mary Laura Philpott during an A Word on Words taping.

NPT’s A Word on Words, hosted by Philpott and Nashville novelist J.T. Ellison, received a Midsouth Regional Emmy Award in January 2017. The rebooted series premiered in October 2015 and was designed for a changing media landscape while staying true to its core emphasis on authors, writing and the promotion of reading as it was under the long stewardship of respected journalist John Seigenthaler.

Each A Word on Words episode is a three-minute interview shot in locations throughout Middle Tennessee with a thematic connection to the book. A list of reading recommendations from the featured author appears at the end of each interview. Behind-the-scenes photographs are displayed on awordonwords.org and extended interviews are also available for viewers to enjoy.

This season will highlight 11 authors, including Alan Furst, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney and Emma Straub. There are also plans to interview John Hart, Megan Abbott, Robert Hicks, Adam Haslett, Yaa Gyasi and Helen Ellis during Humanities Tennessee’s annual Southern Festival of Books in October.

#keepreading – and keep watching!

Farmer Jason’s March 4 Concert at the Belcourt Upholds Spring Tradition


Spring means the return of green grass and bright flowers. It also means Farmer Jason is back for another fun-filled kids concert at the Belcourt Theatre! This year’s performance takes place on Saturday, March 4, at 10 a.m.; tickets are $12 ($10 for Belcourt members).

Farmer Jason is the ecologically minded alter-ego of Jason Ringenberg of Jason and the Scorchers. Ringenberg drew on his own farming background in 2002 to create the character in order to teach children about farm life and the wonders of nature.

The concert at the Belcourt Theatre will be a mix of sing-alongs and dancing. It’s just Farmer Jason performing solo with his acoustic guitar, drawing from folk, country, and rock ’n’ roll with a dash of DIY punk rock. He’ll also discuss nature appreciation, ecology and farm animals.

This event is geared for children ages 2 to 8, but all are welcome to this spirited, high-energy performance!

Farmer Jason has three records and a DVD to his credit, as well as “It’s a Farmer Jason,” an Emmy-winning short video shown on several public television stations around the country. His records have won numerous awards, including the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and the Los Angeles Times’ Children’s Record of the Year list.

Click here for tickets, or call the Belcourt Theatre at (615) 846-3150. A portion of the proceeds support Nashville Public Television’s efforts to provide educational and engaging children’s programming.

Civil War-Era Prostitution on ‘Mercy Street’ and in Nashville

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Hospital for prostitutes on 2nd Avenue, Nashville, 1864, Tennessee State Library and Archives

In episode three of Mercy Street, Dr. Foster and Nurse Hastings are sent to treat a Union Army officer for a sexually transmitted disease. The episode touches upon the prevalence of prostitution in occupied cities and military camps during the Civil War. Nashville not only experienced this problem, but also took the extraordinary step of legalizing prostitution in an effort to control sexually transmitted diseases among the city’s prostitutes and Union Army soldiers.

Prostitution existed in Nashville long before the Civil War. Poor single women and widows were especially vulnerable because 19th-century society provided few employment opportunities for women. In fact, newspapers often referred to prostitutes as “abandoned women,” suggesting that their condition resulted from not having husbands. In response, some elite women and men in Nashville set up charities to help poor single women stay out of prostitution. One of these charities was the House of Industry for Females established in 1837. The institution took orphaned girls and young women off the streets of Nashville and trained them in domestic skills.

Pills from extract of the Kava Kava plant to treat gonorrhea, about 1910, TSM 87.1.3081.

Prostitution flourished in Civil War Nashville for two reasons. First, the war disrupted working-class families sending men into the army or exile, leaving many women without a means of financial support. Second, the city experienced the influx of thousands of Union soldiers, many looking for ways to relieve the boredom of camp life. As a result by mid-1863, sexually transmitted diseases had reached epidemic proportions among soldiers. As seen in Mercy Street, medical treatment for these diseases was painful, not always effective, and could sideline a soldier for weeks.

To curb the epidemic, the Union Army came up with an extreme solution: It directed that all prostitutes in the city be rounded up and transported north. Estimates range from a few hundred to a thousand women being forced to leave the city via rail or steamboat. One documented transport was the steamer Idahoe, which tried to deliver a group of these women to the city of Louisville. After Louisville refused to accept the women, the steamer traveled further upriver to Cincinnati, but was again rejected. After a 28-day trip, the steamer returned the women to Nashville charging the army $1,000 for damages to the quarters of the vessel and more than $4,000 for food and medicine.

License to practice prostitution in Nashville, 1863, National Archives

With the army’s plan to remove the prostitutes a failure, it decided that the best way to control sexually transmitted diseases in Nashville was to create a licensing system for the women, essentially legalizing prostitution in the city. The army announced that all prostitutes were to report for a medical examination or risk serving 30 days in jail. If found disease-free, the women were required to pay $1 license fees and would be permitted to practice their profession as long as they returned every 14 days for a follow-up examination. If a woman was found to have a sexually transmitted disease, she would receive proper treatment in a hospital set up specifically for prostitutes.

According to army reports, 393 prostitutes were licensed following the implementation of this plan. By January 1865, 207 women and 2,330 men were treated for sexually transmitted diseases in Nashville. One of the hospitals for the prostitutes was located on 2nd Avenue, probably north of Gay Street. The hospital for the men was located in the former Hynes School building (built in 1857) on the corner of Jo Johnston Street and 5th Avenue. Neither building exists today.

The army terminated the plan in Nashville when the war ended. Today, a few counties in the United States have legalized prostitution and it is noteworthy that these prostitution licensing systems are not too different from what was instituted in Nashville in 1863.

Mercy Street airs 7 p.m. Sundays on NPT.

Rob DeHart received his M.A. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and is currently developing content for the new Tennessee State Museum opening in 2018.

Maya Angelou, Smokey Robinson Among 2017 Black History Month Features

NPT is observing Black History Month with new programs celebrating the lives and accomplishments of African Americans. This year’s offerings include a new profile of Maya Angelou; a Smokey Robinson special, a new Henry Louis Gates Jr. series; and The Talk, an insightful documentary about conversations parents of color feel they must have with their children.

Here are highlights from our February offerings:

AfropPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange airs Wednesdays, Feb. 2 – March 2, at 11 p.m.
Actress Nicole Beharie is the host of Season 9, which includes An American Ascent (Feb. 2), about the first African-American team to tackle Denali, North America’s highest peak. Black Out (Feb. 23) follows Guinean children as they seek lighted areas in which to study for exams.


Independent Lens
airs Mondays, Feb. 6 and 13, at 9 p.m.
Based on Dick Lehr’s book by the same name, Birth of a Movement (Feb. 6) traces Hollywood’s legacy of misrepresentation and negative racial stereotypes from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of  a Nation to the present. Danny Glover narrates this documentary which includes interviews with historians, writers, and filmmakers including Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, Jelani Cobb, Vincent Brown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America (Feb. 13)
shares the surprising story of a musician’s unusual hobby of befriending KKK members in an effort to change their minds about race. Davis – who has backed Chuck Berry, Little Richard and other legendary performers – also collects robes and hoods of people who end up leaving the Klan after meeting him. This film by Matt and Noah Ornstein was awarded NPT’s Human Spirit Award at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival.

Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Music on Friday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m.
A rhythm and blues icon whose career spans more than 50 years, Robinson has created hit songs that have become a mainstay in American pop music. As a producer and record executive, Robinson helped lead a musical revolution called the Motown sound. This evening hosted by Samuel L. Jackson celebrates Robinson’s receipt of the 2016 Gershwin Prize in December with performances by Gallant, JoJo, Ledisi, Kip Moore, Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Walsh, BeBe Winans and Robinson himself. Motown founder Berry Gordy also makes a special appearance.

John Lewis: Get in the Way on Friday, Feb. 10, at 9:30 p.m.
In town to receive the 2016 Nashville Public Library Literary Award last fall, Rep. John Lewis was astounded when Mayor Megan Barry presented him with oversized images of his mugshots taken during Nashville protests in the 1960s. Lewis – a bestselling author, Medal of Freedom Recipient and civil rights icon – is the subject of an hour-long documentary that includes never-before-seen interviews shot over 20 years. Other key interviewees include civil rights activists Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy and Bernard Lafayette, as well as Lewis’ congressional colleagues Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Emanuel Cleaver and Amory Houghton.

Soul City on Reel South airs Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 11 p.m.
A 1970s utopian community founded in North Carolina is the subject of this program, one of this season’s offerings on Reel South. The series is produced by the Southern Documentary Fund and is hosted by Darius Rucker.

The Talk: Race in America airs Monday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.
Using six personal stories – including that of Samaria Rice, whose 12-year-old son, Tamir, was killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio – to explain the discussion black and Latino families have with their children about how to interact with law enforcement personnel. In addition to the perspectives of ordinary people in California, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee, The Talk shares the experiences of  police officers as well as Kenya Barris, creator/executive producer of Peabody Award-winning ABC series “black-ish”; musician/activist Nas (Illmatic, Life Is Good, Untitled); actor/director and activist Rosie Perez (Do the Right Thing, White Men Can’t Jump, Fearless, Pineapple Express); director/screenwriter/producer John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Baby Boy, Poetic Justice, Hustle and Flow); and New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise airs on American Masters on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.
Singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer Maya Angelou inspired generations with her lyrical and provocative writing. Best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before. The first feature documentary about her life, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise includes never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and Angelou’s own words to tell her story. The film also features exclusive interviews with Bill Clinton; Oprah Winfrey; Common; Alfre Woodard; Cicely Tyson; Quincy Jones; Hillary Clinton; Louis Gossett; Jr.; John Singleton; Diahann Carroll; Valerie Simpson; Random House editor Bob Loomis; and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.

Viewers can share stories of inspirational women in their own lives via text, images or videos on the American Masters website or via Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #InspiringWomanPBS as part of a year-long online campaign.

Africa’s Great Civilization airs Monday, Feb. 27 and Wednesday and Thursday, March 1 and 2, at 8 p.m.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s latest documentary highlights the history of Africa before the colonial era. In this beautifully filmed six-hour miniseries, Prof. Gates travels the length and breadth of the continent from the city of Great Zimbabwe to the pyramids of the Kingdom of Kushner in Sudan, from the spectacular rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia to the continent’s oldest university in Fez, and from the Blombos Caves in South Africa to Ancient Mali. He covers 2,000 years before the European “scramble” to claim Africa’s natural resources.

Other programs returning to our lineup this February are a slate of American Masters profiles of musicians airing Thursdays at 8 p.m., including B.B. King (Feb. 9) and Jimi Hendrix (Feb. 16); as well as documentaries about groundbreaking African-American women airing Mondays at 11 p.m., Black Ballerina (Feb. 20) and Black Women in Medicine ( Feb. 27).

In addition, NPT’s own history documentaries, Looking Over Jordan: African Americans and the War and First Black Statesmen: Tennessee’s Self-Made Men, will be broadcast on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 9 and 9:30 p.m.

Find our full programming lineup at http://www.wnpt.org/schedule/ and be sure to visit our Black History Month page.

Black History Month programming on NPT is made possible through the financial support of

 

As on ‘Mercy Street,’ Spying and Smuggling Were Common in Civil War Tennessee

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Alice Green (AnnaSophia Robb) and Capt. Lance Van Der Berg (Chris Wood). Credit: Courtesy of PBS/Erik Heinila


Spoiler alert: This blog post may contain plot spoilers.

In The House Guest, this week’s Mercy Street episode, Alice Green feigns love for a Union soldier in order to gather information for the Rebellion. This scheme turns out to be more dangerous than she thought and results in tragic consequences. Green’s actions mirror Civil War stories of Middle Tennesseans who tried to aid the Confederacy through espionage and smuggling.

Though women could not join the Confederate Army, there is widespread evidence that they tried to help the cause by smuggling goods across Union lines into the camps of Confederate soldiers. This was enough of a problem that in December 1862, the Nashville Daily Union announced: “To the Ladies – We are informed that the Military Police of this city have adopted a rule to examine all females passing through the lines, who may be suspected of carrying contraband goods, letters, etc. The practice has become so common that they have deemed it absolutely necessary to adopt this course.”

The Annals of the Army of the Cumberland provides an account of an unnamed African-American female servant and her employer caught smuggling for the Confederacy. She was trying to leave Nashville in a cart when it was stopped and searched. The Union guards found nothing suspicious in the cart, but when the woman jumped down to be searched, a “string broke from about her waist, and down tumbled to the ground two pairs of long-legged cavalry boots” which had been hidden in her skirt.

There are also accounts of Confederate spies in Middle Tennessee. One of the most infamous female spies associated with Nashville was Clara Judd. The Annals reported that she traveled from Nashville to Louisville with the purpose of acquiring quinine and other medicines for the Confederacy, but her true intent was to pass Union Army information to Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan. Judd’s information on Union troop strengths and locations along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad helped Morgan lead successful raids. When the Union Army learned of Judd’s involvement, she was arrested and sent to a military prison in Alton, Illinois.

Sam Davis’ boot. Tennessee State Museum.

Tennessee’s most famous Civil War espionage story, however, is that of Sam Davis. Born in Rutherford County, Davis served in the 1st Tennessee Infantry, and by 1863 had become a member of “Coleman’s Scouts.” Davis’ job was to work behind enemy lines collecting information on Union troops and delivering that information to Confederate authorities. He was captured in Giles County by Union troops in November 1863 and accused of being a spy when papers with sensitive information were found in one of his boots. It was believed this information could only have come from a Union officer and not just from his observations as a scout. Davis’ life would have been spared had he revealed his source, but he refused, saying “Do you suppose that I would betray a friend? No, sir, I would die a thousand times first.” He was then hanged at the age of 21.

The Union chaplain who attended Davis at the scaffold collected his effects and sent them to Davis’ mother in Smyrna. Eventually many of these items came into the collection of the Tennessee Historical Society and the Tennessee State Museum. Davis’ boot, which is reported to be the one cut open by Union soldiers to reveal the hidden papers, is on display. One account suggests that the shackles worn by Davis while he awaited execution were cutting off his circulation, which may explain why the boot was cut down almost to its sole. Visitors can also see Davis’ overcoat at the museum. More than 150 years old, this coat has been carefully conserved to inhibit deterioration.

Sam Davis’ overcoat. Tennessee State Museum.

Because Davis accepted death rather than reveal his source, some called him the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy.” In the late-19th century, a group of citizens funded the building of a monument to Davis that still sits on the Tennessee State Capitol grounds. Also, his boyhood home in Smyrna is now preserved as the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation. Davis’ short life demonstrates the danger faced by soldiers and civilians who engaged in espionage during the Civil War.

Rob DeHart received his M.A. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and is currently developing content for the new Tennessee State Museum opening in 2018.

NPT wins 2017 Midsouth Emmy Award; Producer Simington Honored

Matthew Emigh, J.T. Ellison, Beth Curley, Linda Wei and Mary Laura Philpott at the 2017 Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards.

Nashville Public Television’s A Word on Words received an award in the Interstitial category at the 31st Annual Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards on January 21, 2017, at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville. Statuettes went to producer Linda Wei; photographer Will Pedigo; editor Matthew Emigh; hosts J.T. Ellison and Mary Laura Philpott; and executive producer Beth Curley.

NPT productions went into the awards with 4 nominations.

Also during the awards ceremony, NPT producer Ken Simington was posthumously inducted into the Silver Circle with a video tribute and an acceptance speech by Joe Elmore, host of NPT’s popular Tennessee Crossroads magazine program. Simington, who died in August of last year, was the longtime executive producer of Tennessee Crossroads. The Silver Circle honors those with at least 25 years of service to the television industry and who have made a significant contribution to the community and to Midsouth television.

NPT would also like to congratulate our friends and partners on their Emmy wins, including Todd Squared (Bluegrass Underground; Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Friends – Fifty Years, Circlin’ Back!); BoneSteel Films and Concentrix Music (America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and The Asheville Experiment).

For a full list of winners please visit the NATAS-Nashville Chapter website at http://emmynashville.org/awards/.

‘Mercy Street’ Battles Smallpox in Season 2 Opener

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Charlotte Jenkins (Patina Miller), Nurse Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Samuel Diggs (McKinley Belcher III) in Mercy Street. Credit: Courtesy of PBS/Erik Heinila

In the opening episode of Season 2 of Mercy Street, a smallpox epidemic ravages a camp for freed African Americans. Mansion House’s doctors initially ignore the epidemic, viewing it as a “slave disease,” until Nurse Mary Phinney eventually convinces the hospital to take it seriously.

This was an all too common occurrence during the Civil War. As we saw in Mercy Street’s first season, medical practitioners during this era were just beginning to recognize the link between cleanliness and disease. It was more common to blame the smallpox epidemic on the victims’ ethnicity rather than on the unsanitary conditions of the camp and lack of adequate nutrition. Further, military leaders often unknowingly encouraged the spread of disease by not allowing the proper burial of victims or by neglecting to burn the contaminated items of patients.

Historian Jim Downs documents how African Americans disproportionately suffered from disease during the Civil War in his book Sick from Freedom (2012). Downs estimates at least 60,000 former slaves died from smallpox between 1862 and 1870 from an epidemic that began in Washington and spread throughout the South. Mortality statistics for civilians are not well documented from this period, but Downs believes as many as a quarter of the four million slaves freed by the war may have died from disease – a statistic that is largely omitted when discussing Civil War casualties.

Evidence suggests that smallpox is as old as civilization itself. Pathological examinations of Egyptian mummies have alluded to the presence of smallpox scars, and reports of the disease are found in early European, Asian, and African accounts. In England during the 1700s, the fatality rate for smallpox outbreaks ranged from 20 to 60 percent, and the disease proved especially deadly in infants. Smallpox did not exist in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, which explains why it so devastated Native American populations during the era of exploration.

Note certifying the 1866 death of Pleasant Miller, a freed slave and soldier in the 14th United States Colored Infantry. Miller died from illness contracted from exposure in Nashville in December 1864. Tennessee State Museum, 2002.118.4.

It is also tragic that smallpox epidemics were so preventable. As early as the 1720s, physicians experimented with inoculation for smallpox. They noticed that victims who survived the disease did not get it a second time. Physicians began taking contaminated material from the sores of smallpox victims and infecting the skin of healthy patients. Results were promising: People intentionally given the disease died at a significantly lower rate than those who naturally contracted it. One early advocate of smallpox inoculation was Gen. George Washington, who persuaded the Continental Congress to allow the inoculation of American military recruits.

By the early 1800s, British physician Edward Jenner published his experiments on using the cowpox virus to immunize humans against smallpox. The viruses are similar, but cowpox is much less lethal to people. Jenner was not the first to recognize its ability to make humans immune to smallpox, but his publication – which named the procedure after vaccinia, the Latin word for cowpox – started a movement to promote vaccination against smallpox in Europe and the United States.

Although medical science could have declared victory over smallpox, 19th-century doctors did not widely practice vaccination, and smallpox became a disease associated with poverty and people of color. The unsanitary conditions and deadly diseases faced by freed African Americans who fled to Union contraband camps are poignant to consider; however, for most it was still likely preferable to the misery of bondage.

Rob DeHart received his M.A. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and is currently developing content for the new Tennessee State Museum opening in 2018.

‘Mercy Street’ Civil War Drama and State Museum Curator’s Blog Return

Jack Falahee as Frank Stringfellow and Hannah James as Emma Green of Mercy Street. Credit: Courtesy of PBS

Mercy Street, PBS’ original Civil War drama in more than a decade, returns for a second season Sunday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. Again this year we’ve invited Tennessee State Museum curator Rob DeHart to write a weekly blog post that will draw on the museum’s collection to localize the story to the Middle Tennessee region.

DeHart has 16 years of museum experience and is a curator at the Tennessee State Museum here in Nashville where he specializes in technology and cultural history. He is currently developing content about the period from 1760 to 1850 for the new state museum opening on the corner of Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard in 2018. DeHart received his M.A. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University and is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums.

Mercy Street revolves around the staff and patients of Mansion House, a Union hospital that has been set up in a former hotel owned by a Confederate-sympathizing family in the occupied city of Alexandria, Va. Season 2 begins with a visit by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of a thwarted assassination attempt. Loyalties shift this season as doctors, nurses, military personnel, locals, free persons of color and slaves coexist in a rapidly changing and dangerous time and place.

Much of the original cast returns, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead as feisty New Englander and widow nurse Mary Phinney; Josh Radnor as Dr. Jedediah Foster, a civilian contract surgeon who grew up in a privileged Southern slave-owning family; McKinley Belcher III as Samuel Diggs, a free black laborer with a secret knowledge of and ability in medicine learned as a young servant; and AnnaSophia Robb as Alice Green, who becomes the most fervently committed member of her family.

Mercy Street airs Sundays at 7 p.m. through March 5, with a break for the Academy Awards on Feb. 26. Watch this space for NPT’s Mercy Street blog posts in the coming weeks.