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CHM / History Colloquium Talk



Julia Bowes
The University of Hong Kong "Corrupt Your Flesh and Blood With a Festering, Sickening Pus:" The Politics of the Anti-Vaccination Movement in the United States, 1890-1920


24 Nov 2020 3:00 p.m.
Meeting ID: 971 8084 9514



Smallpox spread like wildfire across the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and public health reformers looked to the public school as the perfect site for vaccination campaigns. Building on existing compulsory schooling laws, local and state governments made vaccination a condition of entry to public schools, seeking to make the twenty million children enrolled in schools immune to the disease. As a result, the classroom took center stage in the anti-vaccination movement in the United States as parents railed against the authority of the state to make medical decisions on behalf of their children.


This talk explores the collision of sentimentality, skepticism of science and suspicion of state power that made up the anti-vaccination movement in the United States. It argues that a deeply-held belief in the sovereignty of the family formed a foundational building block in the development of anti-statist movement against compulsory vaccination at the turn of the century, one that was grounded in women's moral authority as mothers and men's rights as citizens.


Co-organized by the Centre of Humanities and Medicine, HKU, and the Department of History.