A Matter of Medical Faith: The Anti-Vaccination Debate from 1880 to 1910
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The History Department thesis “A Matter of Medical Faith: The Anti-Vaccination Debate from 1880 to 1910,” explores the first anti-vaccination movement in the United States, and its eventual culmination in the 1905 Supreme Court case Jacobson v Massachusetts. Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, the anti-vaccination movement was a diverse group of activists, ranging from alternative medical practitioners, to concerned parents who feared for their children’s safety. These grassroots anti-vaccination groups contended with a rising public health movement over issues of vaccine safety, scientific beliefs, and the boundaries of state authority. Through “scientific evidence,” public challenges, and court battles, both sides of the anti-vaccination debate fought to convince a hesitant and suspicious public of their own medical beliefs. As both sides grappled for power and legitimacy in a changing medical world, the argument over vaccination helped to redefine the place of government in health, and the balance between the needs of society and individual rights.