A Pox on the Past

How would you feel if government employees burst into your room while you were sleeping, forced injections on you, and took your sick babies away to a hospital against your will? On the other hand, how would you feel if you lived in a city filled with fellow citizens who refused to get vaccinated against smallpox, thereby putting you at risk? Historian Michael Willrich talks about his new book, Pox: An American History, in this episode of NPR’s talk show “Fresh Air,” and tells some startling stories about the early enforcement of vaccination laws during the smallpox epidemics of 1898-1904. In New York and Boston, immigrants who often associated state interference in their lives with the regimes they’d come to America to escape were forced to submit to vaccinations. In the South, black people were scapegoated for the spread of the pox:

“There was one episode in Middlesboro, Ky., where the police and a group of vaccinators went into this African-American section of town, rounded up people outside this home, handcuffed the men and women and vaccinated them at gunpoint,” says Willrich. “It’s a shocking scene and very much at odds with our daily-held notions of American liberty.”

Given the recent uptick in parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated for fear of autism (see journalist Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus for that story), Willrich’s book has a great deal of contemporary relevance; I’ll be picking it up at the earliest opportunity.

The Cold War and Children’s Literacy

Remember reading Dr. Seuss’s, The Cat in the Hat?  Was it the fish in the bowl that concerned you most?  Or the fact that the mother left for the day, leaving a fish in charge of “Sally and me”?  Or maybe you liked the Cat, with Thing 1 and Thing 2 stuffed under his tall hat?  Louis Menand wrote a short article for the New Yorker explaining that Suess’s book, which was written in response to the national need to improve reading during the 1950s (it appears that American children in the 1950s had fallen behind Europeans), is truly a Cold War artifact.  Consider the problem of the pink spot that the Cat and the children try to get rid of–only to spread pink  (pink!!) over everything.  And then, they did manage to eradicate every speck of the stain, with a mighty explosion.  ——     VOOM    You can read the entire Menand article, including the part in which you find that Suess’s own mother was beautiful, six-foot-tall, and a champion high diver. 

“Is this Tomorrow?”

Apparently the link for “Is this Tomorrow”  (4.1.) has disappeared.  Try this Flickr site.    http://www.flickr.com/photos/57391637@N05/sets/72157625660722718/
No need to read the whole thing.  You’ll get the idea soon enough.  Also, simply search for the entire title  “Is this tomorrow?”  to find a little background.


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