Smallpox! 100 Years Ago

A hundred years ago, smallpox was a growing concern in Guthrie County, Iowa. The clippings are from The Stuart Herald, February 17, 1922.

It’s interesting that public gatherings were forbidden and that the district court was adjourned, but youngsters were still allowed to go to school.

Smallpox was a terrible disease, according to the CDC. On average, 3 out of every 10 people who got it died. People who survived usually had scars, sometimes severe.

According to the Mayo Clinic, smallpox is “a contagious, disfiguring and often deadly disease that has affected humans for thousands of years. Naturally occurring smallpox was wiped out worldwide by 1980 — the result of an unprecedented global immunization campaign.”

The smallpox vaccine was the first to be developed against a contagious disease.

Clabe and Leora Wilson lived in Stuart, which in southern Guthrie County. The twins were 10 months old, Delbert and Donald were in first grade, and Doris would turn 4 in August. The children were vaccinated for smallpox, perhaps their parents were as well. The nurse or doctor told Doris that it wouldn’t hurt, but it did. She was shocked that they’d not told her the truth.

Carried by Cats?

People wondered whether the disease could be spread by neighborhood cats. An adult man died from smallpox, as well as three children. No wonder Guthrie County folks were anxious to get vaccinated.

Florence Morehead, called a girl in the clipping, was 23 years old when she died of this miserable virus. Her father endured a milder case because of being vaccinated during the Civil War six decades earlier.

We were vaccinated for smallpox during the 1950s, but our son born in 1974 wasn’t.

The smallpox vaccination was administered on the upper arm with a series of needle pricks in a circle, then the serum was daubed onto the area and covered with a bandage. It would cause a blister which would eventually fall off, leaving the circular scar as evidence of the vaccination.


Mayo Clinic: “No cure or treatment for smallpox exists. A vaccine can prevent smallpox, but the risk of the vaccine’s side effects is too high to justify routine vaccination for people at low risk of exposure to the smallpox virus.”

Google photos of people with smallpox. I just couldn’t include one here. I’m so thankful we don’t have to dread such an awful disease.


  1. Proof positive that vaccines work. I remember when my daughter got her first immunizations in 1975, I asked when she would get her smallpox vaccine. I couldn’t believe it when I was told that she wouldn’t because smallpox had been eradicated!

  2. I know what you mean about photos. I couldn’t post one when writing about diphtheria. Our ancestors dealt with some nasty diseases. Thank goodness people got the smallpox vaccine!

  3. I thought the same thing about closing the court and forbidding public gatherings and yet continuing school. Can’t remember whether I had the vaccine or not–no scar to show I did, but….

  4. Diseased troops have influenced many a war. Cognizant of that, George Washington, one of the most selfless leaders whoever led, insisted all his troops be vaccinated against smallpox in the American Revolution. It may well have been a key factor in our existence today as a nation.

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