Friday, December 18, 2020

Readying America for a Vaccine

Title page and inscribed flyleaf to A Prospect of Exterminating the Small Pox
Sometimes you stumble on something in the collections and you can't quite believe how timely it is. While doing some research on Smallpox, we came across the second part of Benjamin Waterhouse's Prospect of Exterminating the Small Pox (Cambridge, 1802). Waterhouse had the idea that he could take the vaccine recently developed by Edward Jenner and perform mass vaccinations in the United States to eradicate the disease. It is hard to overstate the impact of the epidemic in North America. It was doing irreparable damage to entire cultures and the death rate was staggering, so finding a way to curb its destructive force was imperative. Waterhouse, a flawed product of his time, started by vaccinating people with no agency: his own children and the enslaved people in his household (part of a long, and horrific legacy of medical experimentation inflicted on Blacks in America). Then he proposed a vaccination program on a grand scale, even trying to enlist the support of his former college roommate, President John Adams.

A public health initiative of that scale demanded public acceptance of the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. Waterhouse's book is a determined attempt to persuade a portion of the public--primarily doctors and the learned class--that this was an opportunity to change the nature of preventative medicine. Notably, our copy is a presentation copy to the Library of Dartmouth College by Waterhouse himself. You can just see him sending off copies to colleges and universities, especially those with medical schools, where his ideas would be well received. 

To see it, ask for Rare RM786.W32.