Friday, June 10, 2016

Smallpox in Caswell County, North Carolina

Smallpox in Caswell County, N.C., During December, 1900.

Raleigh, N.C., January 8, 1901.

Sir: In reply to yours of the 7th instant, just received, I beg to say: The report of the county superintendent of health of Caswell County shows a total of 77 cases of smallpox with 2 deaths for the month of December, 1900. In a letter from him, dated January 4, he says: "We will not have but 15 cases under quarantine after Monday, 7th, unless more develop. I have vaccinated 600 people in the smallpox region during the last month." Farther on he says that "the citizens of Pelham township will meet the county commissioners here Monday and ask them to have compulsory vaccination ordered in certain portions of the township." I would be glad to keep a supply of the Bureau pamphlets "in stock."


Rich. H. Lewis, Secretary State Board of Health.

U.S. Small Pox Epidemic of 1900

At the turn of the 20th century, the United States had managed to avoid a major smallpox epidemic for the better part of a generation. Then a small wave of illness washed over communities of black farmers and laborers in a few southeastern states. The white community was nott alarmed however, believing the disease would stay contained to that population. As one local newspaper put it at the time: “Up to the present, no white people have been attacked and there is positively no occasion for alarm.”

Then of course the disease began spreading to white people. The smallpox virus, it turns out, was colorblind. Yet although white people did become alarmed at this point, they did not turn out in droves to get vaccines. Instead, a vocal minority argued vehemently that the vaccine was of no benefit. They were wrong.

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