At the turn of the last century, a powerful smallpox epidemic swept the United States from coast to coast. At the dawn of the activist Progressive era and during a moment of great optimism about modern medicine, the government responded to the deadly epidemic by calling for universal compulsory vaccination. While public health measures eventually contained the disease, they also sparked a wave of popular resistance among Americans who perceived them as a threat to their health and to their rights. At the time, anti-vaccinationists were often dismissed as misguided cranks, but Willrich argues that they belonged to a wider legacy of American dissent that attended the rise of an increasingly powerful government. As Willrich suggests, many of the questions first raised by the Progressive-era anti-vaccination movement are still with us: How far should the government go to protect us from peril? What happens when the interests of public health collide with religious beliefs and personal conscience? Willrich tells a riveting tale about the clash of modern medicine, civil liberties and government power at the turn of the last century that resonates powerfully today.
To register for this event, please go to http://www.nyam.org/events/2012/pox-an-american-history-lecture.html
Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections
The New York Academy of Medicine
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