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Title: Piercing the veil : reading the African-American experience of smallpox vaccination in Philadelphia, 1823-1923
Author: DeLancey, Dayle B.
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2006
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This Ph.D. thesis examines the African-American experience of smallpox vaccination in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - the former capital of the V.S. and one of the nation’s oldest and largest cities - from 1823 to 1923, juxtaposing municipal views of African› American vaccination in the nineteenth-and early-twentieth centuries with African Americans’ stated views of smallpox and vaccination. In this, the thesis is above all an exploration of perceptions - with those that Philadelphia’s public health officials held of Black vaccination patterns compared to those that Black Philadelphians held of smallpox, vaccination, and municipal smallpox prevention. Many contemporary health advocates and researchers are preoccupied with modem-day African Americans’ limited uptake of preventive vaccines against infectious viral diseases, often describing the issue in terms of the discontents of African Americans’ medical views, agency in health decision-making and socio-political affairs, and long history of medical exploitation and neglect. However, neither makers of health policy nor medical historians have given African-American vaccination comprehensive and focused attention as a discrete subject. The Ph.D. thesis seeks to fill this gap. Chapter One (Introduction), gives an overview of the thesis. Chapter Two suggests that the abolitionist rhetoric that was so popular among Black Philadelphians during the period shaped both the African-American understanding of smallpox and their view of vacination compliance as a show of scientific sophistication and social responsibility that demonstrated ’fitness for freedom’. Chapter Three examines the Black press’ preoccupation with vaccination as a symbol of new freedoms, privileges, and dangers during the period, contrasting these to the perceptions depicted in municipal reports about Blacks’ approach to vaccination and African-American public discourse about vaccination. Chapter Four reconstructs the 1870-1896 serial smallpox outbreaks, suggesting that the discontents of ’modernity’ not only led to the widespread belief that low vaccination rates among Negro migrants from the South had seeded the epidemics, but’ also revealed the limitations of medicine and public health within the schema of that ’modernity’. Chapter Five analyzes African-American vaccination from the start of the ’Great Migration’ in the 1890s through its height in the 1920s - the period that culminated with a series of ’flash’ smallpox epidemics in Philadelphia. The chapter juxtaposes municipal conclusions about the migrants’ reasons for going unvaccinated with the cultural beliefs, experiences, and expectations of the Southern migrants themselves, as well as of the ’established Black community’ that they encountered upon their arrival in Philadelphia. Chapter Six (Conclusion) synthesizes the foregoing chapters.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available