BE SURE! BE SAFE! GET VACCINATED! Smallpox, Vaccination and Civil Liberties in New York at New-York Historical Society
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The eradication of smallpox, variola major, from the world is one of the great triumphs of modern medicine. For centuries, this highly contagious, disfiguring lethal disease swept through communities, often killing nearly a quarter of its victims and leaving many of the rest blind and deeply scarred. There is still not any known cure for the disease, but the last naturally occurring case of smallpox in the world appeared in 1977. "Get Vaccinated!" -- part of a slogan from an incredibly successful 1947 campaign requesting voluntary vaccination (when five million New Yorkers were vaccinated in two weeks) -- traces the history of smallpox and efforts to manage it in the crowded environs of the nation's largest city. The exhibition begins with the use of inoculation (the introduction of matter from a pustule on the body of smallpox sufferer), in the eighteenth century, and George Washington's dramatic decision to inoculate his troops during the Revolutionary War, amid rumors that the British were intentionally infecting rebel populations. Themes emphasized in Get Vaccinated! include the history of vaccination itself, the painful conflict between the need to manage disease in an urban environment and the rights of individuals to resist government interference in their private lives, the growing effectiveness of public relations campaigns in promoting public health initiatives, bioterrorism and the political and economic impact of all epidemics in the city, including cholera, typhus, yellow fever, and AIDS.
Venue Description: A trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the New-York Historical Society with four centuries of history and art – plus the only Children’s History Museum in the area. It hits the spot for anyone craving an offbeat (and often surprising) bite of the city’s culture easily digested in an hour or two. Quirky, smart, immersive and across the street from beautiful Central Park, it offers a rich taste of the city.
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