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When Polio Triggered Fear and Panic Among Parents in the 1950s

March 27, 2020 in History

By Volker Janssen

Since little was understood about the virus that left some paralyzed and others dead, fear filled the vacuum.

In the 1950s, the polio virus terrified American families. Parents tried “social distancing”—ineffectively and out of fear. Polio was not part the life they had signed up for. In the otherwise comfortable World War II era, the spread of polio showed that middle-class families could not build worlds entirely in their control.

For the Texas town of San Angelo on the Concho River, halfway between Lubbock and San Antonio, the spring of 1949 brought disease, uncertainty and most of all, fear. A series of deaths and a surge of patients unable to breathe prompted the airlifting of medical equipment with C-47 military transporters.

Towns Practice Extreme Social Distancing

Children in San Angelo residential areas watch Texas Health employees spray DDT over vacant lots in the city to combat a recent increase in the number of polio cases. All theaters, swimming pools, churches, schools and public meeting places were closed.

Fearful of the spread of the contagious virus, the city closed pools, swimming holes, movie theaters, schools and churches, forcing priests to reach out to their congregations on local radio. Some motorists who had to stop for gas in San Angelo would not fill up their deflated tires, afraid they’d bring home air containing the infectious virus. And one of the town’s best physicians diagnosed his patients based on his “clinical impression” rather than taking the chance of getting infected during the administration of the proper diagnostic test, writes Gareth Williams, Paralyzed with Fear: The Story of Polio. The scene repeated itself across the nation, especially on the Eastern seaboard and Midwest.

The virus was poliomyelitis, a highly contagious disease with symptoms including common flu-like symptoms such as sore throat, fever, tiredness, headache, a stiff neck and stomach ache. For a few though, polio affected the brain and spinal cord, which could lead meningitis and, for one out of 200, paralysis. For two to 10 of those suffering paralysis, the end result was death.

Transmitted primarily via feces but also through airborne droplets from person to person, polio took six to 20 days to incubate and remained contagious for up to two weeks after. The disease had first emerged in the United Sates in 1894, but the first large epidemic happened in 1916 when public health experts recorded 27,000 cases and …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier

March 27, 2020 in History

By History.com Editors

On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson’s groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Robinson’s was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, to a family of sharecroppers. Growing up, he excelled at sports and attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was the first athlete to letter in four varsity sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. After financial difficulties forced Robinson to drop out of UCLA, he joined the army in 1942 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After protesting instances of racial discrimination during his military service, Robinson was court-martialed in 1944. Ultimately, though, he was honorably discharged.

After the army, Robinson played for a season in the Negro American League. In 1946, he spent one season with the Canadian minor league team the Montreal Royals. In 1947, Robinson was called up to the Majors and soon became a star infielder and outfielder for the Dodgers, as well as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. In 1949, the right-hander was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player and league batting champ. Robinson played on the National League All-Star team from 1949 through 1954 and led the Dodgers to six National League pennants and one World Series, in 1955. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.

Despite his talent and success as a player, Robinson faced tremendous racial discrimination throughout his career, from baseball fans and some fellow players. Additionally, Jim Crow laws prevented Robinson from using the same hotels and restaurants as his teammates while playing in the South.

After retiring from baseball in 1957, Robinson became a businessman and civil rights activist. He died October 24, 1972, at age 53, in Stamford, Connecticut.

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Source: HISTORY

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How Suffragists Raced to Secure Women's Right to Vote Ahead of the 1920 Election

March 27, 2020 in History

By Ellen DuBois

The 19th Amendment was ratified just in time to include women voters in the next presidential election.

The year 1917 was highly consequential for the

Suffragists had nine weeks to get women registered to vote. While there is no way to know exact numbers, it is generally accepted that one-third of eligible women voted in the 1920 election (versus two-thirds of men).

The era of woman suffrage was over. The era of women working their way up and through the political process had begun. As one suffragist put it, it was “the dawn of woman’s political power in America.”

Ellen DuBois is Distinguished Research Professor in the History Department of UCLA and author of numerous books on the history of woman suffrage in the US, including, Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote.

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Source: HISTORY