Monday, June 6, 2011

Pox: An American History by Michael Willrich

Late one evening in New York, vaccinators and policemen raided a tenement home in Little Italy, vaccinating everyone they could find with the smallpox vaccine.  Michael Willrich stumbled upon this article, published in 1901, as he searched The New York Times archive with plans to write a book on the aftermath of September 11 and civil liberties.  Instead, this 1901 New York Times article led Willrich on an exploration of the seldom-explored history of smallpox vaccinations and its impact on civil liberties at the turn of the twentieth century.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, a deadly smallpox epidemic spread throughout America.  With advances and optimism in modern medicine, the government called for a universal compulsory vaccination.  To enforce the law, health officials relied upon pesthouses, quarantines, and "virus squads."  Virus squads often consisted of doctors and policemen with billy clubs.  These governmental measures sparked a wave of resistance by Americans who felt a risk to both their health and to their civil liberties.

A professor of history at Brandeis University, Willrich examines the debates surrounding smallpox vaccination in the early twentieth century.  He also poses questions that continue to be a concern in the contemporary public health field.  Pox: An American History explores concerns and debates that affected Americans 100 years ago, and that continue to be relevant today.

Join Tenement Talks on Tuesday, June 7 at 6:30 PM to hear Michael Willrich discuss Pox: An American History.  Please RSVP to

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.