1907: Get vaccinated or be expelled

SMALL POX SCARE OVER

Students Ordered to be Vaccinated or Leave School.

On Tuesday of last week, notices were posted to the effect that all persons connected with the college must either be vaccinated or leave the school by Friday, Nov. 15th. This order was issued on account of the outbreak of several smallpox cases in various parts of the campus, making it appear as though there might be a general outbreak of smallpox over the entire college. Consequently on Wednesday morning there was a rush of students to the hospital to be vaccinated. In the last several days, however, there have been no new cases and the force of the alarm is about spent. A later order has extended the limit of the time, before which all students must be vaccinated, to Monday, Nov. 18. Many serious objections were raised to this order by persons who have a fear of vaccination. These persons must realize, however, that the force of a contagious outbreak of this kind can never be told and a few, or for that matter, a few hundred sore arms are to be preferred to a few hundred smallpox cases. The physicians seem to have the disease in hand and there is little danger of any further outbreaks.

I.S.C. Student, “Small pox scare over” from 18 Nov 1907

In November 1907, Iowa State College was hit with an outbreak of smallpox, a contagious disease that at the time was a serious public health threat to any community where it appeared. As the number of sick increased in Ames, college administrators took action. After meeting with the college deans on 12 November, president Albert B. Storms issued an order for all employees and the nearly 1,600 students to be vaccinated at once.

Several cases of varioloid have been reported. It is necessary as a precautionary measure that all college people—faculty employees and students—be vaccinated, or show evidences of recent successful vaccination. All college people must therefore report in person to Dr. Tilden, college physician, immediately at the college hospital. After Friday night, November 15th, any person in college employ or any student not reporting, will be suspended until certificate from college physician has been obtained.

A.B. Storms, President

President A.B. Storms’ proclamation No. 1, Student Health Services, Records, 1897-[ongoing]. RS 7/7/3, Box 4, Folder 2, Special Collections, Parks Library, Iowa State University

An Ames Times story called the order “a just one and was accepted generally in a kindly manner, the people and students being, for the most part willing to stop the spread of the contagion.” Proving vaccination within the last five years was satisfactory to the college[1]. Those that were sick were sent to the college “pest house[1][2][3][4].

1907 Iowa State Campus Map with mentioned buildings highlighted and some structures still standing noted[4]

The origin of the outbreak was speculated, according to The Des Moines Daily Tribune, to be a hobo who spent a night in jail[5]. However, a later report by Dr. Charles G. Tilden, the college physician, to the college’s Board of Trustees paints a clear picture of the timeline.

In October, a young boy, David Ives, contracted smallpox on a train[6]. Ives attended Welch School, and it spread[7] to another seven or eight people. On 15 October, smallpox appeared on campus when a worker at Margaret Hall was diagnosed and immediately quarantined[8]. Nothing more was seen until 3 November, when a student, C.S. Beach, became sick, and his friend, C.F. Hutchinson, was also under suspicion. On 6 November, they went to the pest house. Then there was a small pop: one case on 7 November, one on 8 November, two on 9 November, and one under suspicion. All were soon confirmed as smallpox and quarantined by 11 November. The city physician, Dr. C.A. Aplin, also sent three cases to the college pest house, even though those people had no connection to the college[9].

The last case in Ames was confirmed on 13 November, but Tilden’s report made it clear he wasn’t happy how the city acted, sending its sick to the college pest house[10]. Tilden had only been on the job only six weeks when the outbreak hit, and at the time, student hospital fees were optional, resulting in poor funding for the college’s health services[9].

On the city side, local law required the fumigation of an infected person’s residence to prevent further spread. The Zimmerman, McKimm, and East Parker boarding houses were where some cases originated, and Tilden states that in the latter two, only the infecteds’ rooms were fumigated — both generated three smallpox cases each. To control the spread, Tilden oversaw the fumigation of boarding houses. “It might be well to say that the city physician did not perform his duties in this respect,” he wrote in his report. “In all houses where the disease developed, all student roomers and boarders were immediately ordered to the Hospital and vaccinated as far as it was in our power”[9].

On 11 November, Tilden said he advised president Storms that everyone connected with the college should be vaccinated. The order was announced the following day[9].

The I.S.C. Student, which only published weekly, never noted the number of smallpox cases. Most other newspapers varied between 11 and 12 cases in the first days following the president’s proclamation[2][3][5]. One of the cases was a person who lived somewhere (Ward 2) in the downtown vicinity[1]. None of the cases were serious[11].

There was criticism and hesitancy to the vaccine mandate, most notably in athletics. In one week was the all-important football game against the University Iowa, “which is taken more seriously than the small pox scare,” stated The Des Moines Daily Tribune[8]. The soreness and aches that can follow inoculation could interfere with the team’s chances of winning. However, the game went on, and Iowa State won.

The Student had a couple blurbs in its 18 November edition about the vaccination.

The question of vaccination is just a little hard to decide upon when “the folks” absolutely forbid it to be done and on the other hand authorities say it is absolutely necessary that it be done.

I.S.C. Student, 18 Nov 1907

Apparently, parents were the ones telling their (adult) children not to get vaccinated. At the time, a vast number of students were from farms and small towns. Despite the naysaying by parents, students got the vaccine.

The most common remark around here at present is, don’t touch my left arm.

I.S.C. Student, 18 Nov 1907

Tilden noted the criticism toward the vaccine mandate (and himself) in his Trustees report but called the results of the work done as “gratifying.” “The only source of satisfaction to me was the fact that the epidemic stopped then and there and not another case since,” he wrote. In only three days, 1,300 college people had received Tilden’s approval. In less than two weeks[11], Tilden could show that 96.4% of students were safe from smallpox — 720 were vaccinated, 763 had a previous inoculation, and 42 had previously had smallpox. Only 61 students had failed to report[9]. On 21 November, the Ames Times reported that nearly all students had passed the physician’s approval, and many downtown residents had opted to be vaccinated, too[1]. In his Trustees report, Tilden suggested a smallpox vaccination should be required for all future students[9].

There were issues during the vaccination process. Professor Barrett[13] championed a pill vaccination method, that took a week to complete. Tilden dismissed the method. “In many cases it is only the laughing stock of the student body as they readily become conversant with the symptoms that should be produced and are able to fluently describe them at the end of the period, thereby securing the signature of the physician that they have been properly vaccinated, when in reality they only threw the medicine away… When the United States government approves the method, then it is good enough for the Iowa State College, and not until then”[9].

After the outbreak cooled, there was an incident, only noted in the Ames Times. A student, T.L. Crolott, got smallpox in early December, but not wanting to be quarantined, he got on a train and left Ames. The local board of health caught up with him at his home in Clinton, and the mayor was ready to press charges for endangering the public health. The Chicago & North Western Railroad authorities were also debating pressing charges because Crolott knowingly exposed several people to smallpox on their train[14]. I don’t know the outcome of this, and I haven’t found any mention of this incident elsewhere. (I also didn’t come across any records of students being expelled or staff being suspended for not getting vaccinated.[15])

Previous outbreaks at Iowa State

Outbreaks weren’t new to Iowa State in 1907. In 1877, there was a typhoid fever outbreak where four people died. In 1900, an outbreak of typhoid fever from contaminated milk caused the death of five students. In fact, during the summer of 1907, there were some typhoid fever cases. Smallpox also wasn’t new to campus in 1907. There are cases of it sprinkled through the Daily and the city newspapers earlier years, but cases are sporadic and usually didn’t affect more than a couple at a time.

Other smallpox outbreaks in 1907

While Iowa State’s action of a vaccine mandate was quick and aggressive, it was in line with what was done at the time.

In later October 1907, the University of Chicago required all students to get the smallpox vaccine after six cases appeared[16]. The exception to that rule was the football team, who defied the orders because they wanted to ensure they’d be able to play the game. Instead, team members, two of whom were of the earliest smallpox cases, were inspected individually prior to a game and given a clean bill of health[17]. There was a sizable backlash from the students, too, especially the women, who objected to the scar that would be left on the arm[18].

In December, at University of Wisconsin-Madison, a single case of smallpox appeared in a women’s dormitory. The university required all women in the dormitory to get vaccinated and then sent home, returning after the holiday break[19].

Newspapers are sprinkled with news of little smallpox outbreaks. Algona[20], Audubon[21], Beaver[22], Conrad[23], Creston[24], Estherville[25], Iowa City[26], Lime Springs[27], Marshalltown[28], Paullina[29], and Traer[30] are all mentioned in Iowa newspapers in latter months of 1907 with some level of a smallpox outbreak. Local Traer officials gave vaccinations to anyone who had contact with the sick, and Conrad was quick to close its school. In Cartersville, the entire community was exposed, so the school was closed and all the children were ordered to be vaccinated[31].

Sources & Notes:

  1. Ames Times, “Ames has little smallpox scare” from 21 Nov 1907.
  2. (Marshalltown) Evening Times-Republican, “Smallpox at College” from 14 Nov 1907.
  3. Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, “Small pox alarm in Ames” from 16 Nov 1907.
  4. The college “pest house” on the map above is my guess on the building, which is never specifically named. On the 1907 map, it is called “Veterinary Barn” and is “Veterinary Hospital” in H. Summerfield Day’s Iowa State University Campus and Its Buildings. The Gazette story (#3) refers to the quarantine building as a “barn.” A 1908 Student editorial (“Editorial” from 26 Oct 1908) stated the building could be seen from the streetcar.
  5. The Des Moines Daily Tribune, “Small pox scare at Ames” from 14 Nov 1907.
  6. Ames Times, “Small pox west of town” from 3 Oct 1907.
  7. The Ames Intelligencer, “Smallpox at an end” from 10 Oct 1907.
  8. Ames Times, “A domestic at Margaret Hall” from 17 Oct 1907.
  9. College physician C.G. Tilden’s report to the Board of Trustees from late November 1907. Student Health Services, Records, 1897-[ongoing]. RS 7/7/3, Box 4, Folder 2, Special Collections, Parks Library, Iowa State University
  10. The college pest house had bedding, supplies, a nurse, and cook provided by the city and college, though the city paid the regular bills. A 1908 Student editorial (“Editorial” from 26 Oct 1908) recalled the conditions there in 1907 as “slovenly” and “not only disagreeable for the patients, but some of the sights which could be seen from the street cars were very nauseating.” In 1908, the old college hospital (the hospital moved to a different building in fall 1907 prior to the smallpox outbreak) was considered as a candidate to convert to student housing. The Student staff thought it should at least be considered for a new quarantine facility.
  11. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, “Ames vaccinates; fear varioloid” from 14 Nov 1907.
  12. Dr. Tilden’s report was submitted into the record at the Board of Trustees meeting on 25 Nov 1907, so his statistics were up to 24th, at the latest.
  13. I’m unsure who “Professor Barrett” was, exactly. Tilden doesn’t mention a first name. There was professor R.C. Barrett in the sciences department.
  14. The Ames Times, “Skipped quarantine” from 8 Dec 1907.
  15. The deadline to receive physician’s approval was extended to 18 November so some could acquire the necessary work from their home. While notices for failure to comply were sent out on 19 November, Storms’ letter to the department heads made it seem like staff suspensions wouldn’t be permanent because conditions at the college had improved so much. More likely, any suspensions — and possibly expulsions, too — would just last until the end of the term.
  16. Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, “Small pox in big university” from 30 Oct 1907.
  17. The Sioux City Journal, “Football squad in peril” from 12 Nov 1907.
  18. The Sioux City Journal, “Coeds’ anger is aroused” from 16 Nov 1907.
  19. Cedar Rapids Republican, “Smallpox at university” from 18 Dec 1907.
  20. Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, “No end of bother” from 31 Dec 1907.
  21. Audubon County Journal, “Audubon News” from 7 Nov 1907.
  22. Des Moines Daily Tribune, “Beaver has smallpox scare” from 31 Dec 1907.
  23. The (Marshalltown) Evening Times-Republican, “News of Interest” from 7 Nov 1907.
  24. Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, “Creston has two cases of smallpox” from 24 Dec 1907.
  25. The (Des Moines) Register and Leader, “Smallpox in Estherville” from 26 Dec 1907.
  26. The Davenport Daily Times, “Smallpox at Iowa City” from 5 Dec 1907.
  27. Cedar Rapids Gazette, “An epidemic of smallpox” from 4 Oct 1907.
  28. The (Marshalltown) Evening Times-Republican, “Board of health meeting” from 31 Dec 1907.
  29. The (Marshalltown) Evening Times-Republican, “Smallpox in Paullina” from 13 Nov 1907
  30. Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, “Three families with from two to four cases” from 26 Dec 1907.
  31. Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, “An epidemic of smallpox” from 14 Oct 1907.

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