“The old story” – A short editorial on opposition to vaccines and its consequences… from Pottsville in 1903

The Old Story

People who have failed to get vaccinated are still keeping the Municipal Hospital supplied with patients and keeping the borough’s expense account at a high figure.

These are the people who have made the hospital for contagious diseases necessary.

Some of the unbelievers in the virtue of the vaccine theory have paid a high price for their skepticism, but for all tat there are still some disciples of the anti-vaccination cult in the borough. It is the old story – the people of Sodom did not believe in the fire story until they had been caught in the blaze. 

Miners_Journal_Wed__Feb_11__1903_

From the Miners’ Journal of Pottsville, February 11, 1903. 

The editors were referring to opposition to smallpox vaccination among the population of Pottsville amid a winter where outbreaks in and around the city necessitated the opening of an emergency hospital to treat all the cases. This came amid a wave of anti-vaccination beliefs that cropped up around the turn of the 20th century, mostly in response to governments passing compulsory vaccination statutes that, despite the rage they provoked among a small portion of the public, saved innumerable lives.

Anti Vaccine
(Historical Medical Library/College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

It is estimated that the death toll from smallpox in the 20th century alone surpassed 300 million people.

Global vaccination efforts later eradicated smallpox entirely. 


Featured Image: A cartoon showing anti-vaccination proponents leading their followers to their deaths, 1924 (Historical Medical Library/College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

Ahh, but you may say: “Vaccines today are different than in the past.” But here’s something to note, something you won’t see among anti-vaccine proponents today: their arguments are the same as those spouted more than a century ago by those opposed to smallpox vaccination.

Pottsville enacted its first compulsory vaccination program in 1855 – the town’s school board worked in partnership with local doctors to mandate smallpox vaccination among the town’s schoolchildren. 

You may also say, “Jake, you aren’t a doctor.” And you’d be right. But I worked alongside medical professionals and medical historians at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine for nearly a decade, spending countless hours with archival records and researching 19th century military vaccination programs.


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7 thoughts on ““The old story” – A short editorial on opposition to vaccines and its consequences… from Pottsville in 1903

  1. I’m not against the vaccine but apparently it doesn’t work as vaccinated people still need protection and need to mask up??? Something’s wrong.

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    1. It’s no conspiracy – it’s a combination of factors.

      A significant number of people have refused to get vaccinated – this also makes further mutations of the virus more likely as well as filling ICUs and hospitals in some areas with more patients than ever before in this pandemic.

      Delta variant has brought Covid to be a serious threat children, something that hadn’t been a serious issue with earlier forms of the disease. And with that danger and awaiting approval for vaccine usage in children under 12, here we are.

      Again – not some vast conspiracy. If more people would get vaccinated, we’d be much closer to this ending and there’d be a lot less people dying. Not just of Covid, but of other illnesses and accidents who can’t find hospital rooms or treatment because hospitals in some parts of the US are filled with Covid patients.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoy reading your post. History was a much hated class in high school. Your post have changed my mind about history and now look forward to reading about yesterday.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find this post to be fascinating, as the history of anthracite coal mining is one of my favorite interests, along with the railroad industry and canals. Thank you very much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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