By the early 20th Century American parents were gripped by a horrifying fear that their children might contract the contagious polio virus. Although the disease had a cruel preference for children, adults were affected as well. President Franklin Roosevelt was struck with polio at age 39. Reports of outbreaks frequently lead to swimming pools and movie theaters closing, and in some cases, entire communities being quarantined. Houston and Harris Counties, Texas, had the second-highest rate of infection in the nation.
Thus, sighs of relief could be heard across the nation when Jonas Salk introduced the first polio vaccine in 1955.
Dr. Heather Wooten discusses her award-winning book The Polio Years in Texas: Battling a Terrifying Unknown. This book received the T. R. Fehrenbach Book Award by the Texas Historical Commission and the East Texas Historical Association’s Ottis Lock Endowment Award, Best Book category.
For this book, Dr. Wooten conducted extensive archival research as well as interviews with Texas polio survivors and their families. This resulted in a detailed analysis and accounts of not only the polio epidemics that swept through Texas, but also of the individual stories of those ravaged by the dreaded disease.
In response to the rapidly growing number of polio cases in Texas, Dallas orthopedic surgeon and Rotarian, William Beall Carrell and the Scottish Rite Masons founded the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in 1921. It became the first hospital in Texas devoted entirely to rehabilitation of the disabled. Polio patients comprised 80 per cent of the caseload during polio years.
Dr. Wooten earned a Ph.D. in Medical Humanities from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She is the author of numerous publications concerning United States, Texas and medical history.
Sponsored by the Allen Public Library, this program is free. The library is located at 300 N. Allen Dr. Call 214-509-4911. Call 214-509-4911 for additional information.
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