Smallpox Inoculation - A Forgotten Controversy

By Joan C. McCulloh


          About 1904 a new Pennsylvania state law required public school students to be vaccinated against smallpox.  When inoculation against smallpox became mandatory for public school attendance, the controversy over both the efficacy and the morality of vaccination grew even further.  Mercersburg and the surrounding area reflected this division of thought which grew more and more heated as it developed.  In 1906 teachers in Franklin County, although they agreed to abide by the law, at their annual Institute, a meeting of school administrators and teachers held each fall in Chambersburg, they passed a resolution for the repeal of this law as they said that it was a “detriment to the schools and violated the rights of parents.”  At the meeting the State Superintendent of Schools, however, reminded the teachers that they had the responsibility to obey this legislation. This controversy played out in newspapers. To the Mercersburg Journal W. A. Culler, who favored inoculation, and Lewis Glaser, who opposed it, wrote a series of letters expressing their views.  John G. Palmer also added his objections to the practice.  Some of these letters written by local men will be printed here without comment, additions, or deletions.  However, the controversy did not end in 1906 but persisted for several years.  In 1919 the Harrisburg Telegraph included several articles recounting the legal actions brought against two teachers and thirteen parents in Montgomery Township who had flouted the law.


          In the December 20, 1905, issue of the Mercersburg Journal W. A. Culler, a local resident, wrote an article defending the use of vaccination.  In the January12, 1906, edition of the Journal Lewis Glaser, wrote a “REPLY TO W.A.CULLER  Editor Journal:  A friend of mine called my attention to an article in favor of vaccination written by Mr. W.A. Culler published in the Journal on Dec. 20, to which I take issue and beg to reply as follows:


          “Mr. Culler seems to think it is his duty to take the unpopular side of the custom simply because it has so few advocates.  Mr. Culler gives among his reasons for vaccination the fact that we submitted to it for a hundred and fifty years, and that Washington inoculated his army, and concludes with the hope that every child be vaccinated and thus protected against this loathsome disease - smallpox.


          “We may answer Mr. Culler that a time-honored superstition is nevertheless a superstition.  The fact that we believed vaccination to be a preventative of small pox for a hundred and fifty years is no evidence that it is; we believed the world flat and stationary for a longer period until proved to the contrary.  Also the fact that Washington inoculated his army is no proof that the army would have perished, had that operation been omitted.  The fact is, however, that neither Mr. Culler Dr. Dixon or anybody else has been able to prove conclusively that vaccination will prevent smallpox.


          “In Bavaria, Germany, it was officially recorded out of 30,742 cases of smallpox 29,129 had been vaccinated.  In 1887 there were 16,249 deaths of smallpox in Italy, a country where 93.38 percent of the population are vaccinated.  In the epidemic that raged in England in 1871 the town of Leicester had 329 cases of smallpox per 10,000 population, although it was well vaccinated at the time, while in the epidemic of 1891, after abandoning vaccination for twenty years, it only had 19 cases per 10,000 population, the disease being brought to the town on twelve separate occasions while the surrounding towns had their former percentage of smallpox.  Cleveland, Ohio, suffered from smallpox since 1898, gaining 230 cases in six months, when Dr. Friedrich stopped vaccination entirely and ordered disinfection and sanitation with the result that within a short time the city was free from smallpox.


          “Proof can be multiplied that vaccination never has and never will prevent smallpox, on the other hand, we see daily the disastrous results of vaccination, blood poison, tetanus and even death being directly traced to it, why then insist upon its use simply because it is an old time custom.


          “But aside from its effect upon life and health it is a menace to personal freedom.  One is required to pay school tax and yet cannot avail himself of the benefits of the free school system on account of an obnoxious law.


          “The question in its simplist form is this, will vaccination prevent smallpox or will it not?  If it will, the vaccinated children will be immune to the disease and the unvaccinated will get vaccinated as soon as they see the benefits derived from vaccination, and if it will not prevent smallpox, what good is it?


          “I do not doubt Mr. Culler is sincere in his desire of having the school children protected, but he should first make sure that vaccination is a protection before he becomes enthusiastic.”


          As a response W.A. Culler wrote the following printed in the January 19, 1906, Journal:  “In the reply to article of Dec. 20 [1905] which appeared in last week’s issue, there is a great deal of ‘Mr.Culler,’ and is  a question as to whether the issue is intended to portray an irruption on Culler or to vaccination, the former of which we wish to make no defense more than to say as an orphan boy who was permitted to spend only 256 days as a pupil in the free school I am led to know the loss and worth of fundamental training in the school room, and my desire is that the law may be sustained, the children protected from disease and be permitted to take their places in the school room and that harmony be gain restored throughout the state.


          “With the cares of life resting upon us, we do not have the time to prepare to think in all the vicissitudes of life.  We pay lawyers, doctors and ministers to think for us, and yet it is easy to be misled by gossip, delusion and sophistry, if we give heed to them.


          “It would be erroneous to expect an infant to comprehend, though we explain a principle in mathematics.  How could the people of the fourteenth century believe the earth to be anything but a plane?  Human intelligence had not led them to see, and it had not been demonstrated to them to be otherwise.


          “It is not intelligent to say that vaccination is a superstition; its utility and virtues have been demonstrated for generations.  History teaches us  that Washington saved his army by this treatment, and thus was ready for the battlefield by early spring, and if our contributor will but lift his hat from his eyes, he can see for himself and need not seek Dr. Dixon or anyone else to prove what shines out with brilliancy on the pages of history and medical record.


          “We admit that there are cases where the vaccinated took smallpox in a mild form but this is no proof that it is  not a preventative; that disinfection is effective but the medical fraternity tells us that it is striking disease at a distance but is no armor for the individual when exposed to the disease.  We know too that England has had trouble with the vaccination law and if it had been recently repealed, it is because of a rebellious people and not for lack of virtue in vaccination.  That only a few years ago, localities in Italy were rotten with smallpox and that today they are removing their sanitary hospitals or converting them into workshops.  Vaccination has so nearly stamped out the disease that as hospitals they are no longer needed.


          “Because theft and murder continue to be perpetrated is this any reason that law does not prevent crime? Because sin still abounds is this any evidence that there is no remedy or preventative for sin, or that the remedy is not efficient?  Because smallpox exists is this evidence that we have not found a preventative?  No, but to the contrary we should continue to apply the remedy and thus soon stamp this plague out of existence.  Perhaps the great objection my opponent gives is that some die; to which we say, medical statistics tell us that one of 4,200 subjects of vaccination prove fatal.


          “Last, that the law keeps the children out of school.  Does it?  A mother prepares a  bountiful repast and while she insists before partaking that her son wash his hands or recover his coat, he refuses and goes out and steals green apples and cucumbers and drinks filthy water from an old shoe; mind like the body must feed on something, it is no fault of the mother.


          “The law is our school master and insists that the children attend school but the parent keeps them out because of non-compliance with the law.”


          In the Journal published in the following week of January 19 an article in which Mr. Culler again defended vaccination and explained that, when he was teaching in Washington County, Maryland, in 1882, a physician came to his school and inoculated all thirty-two of his students and him and that “no parent was consulted and no one remonstrated.”


          Mr. Glaser, however, was not silenced.  In the Journal published in the week of February 9 he replied: “Editor, Journal-In my letter of January 12th I stated some facts in contradiction of Mr. Culler’s views on the subject of vaccination.  I did not expect that it would cause a reply from anyone but Mr. Culler replied with an article in which he strongly objects to my frequent use of his name and in conclusion he promises the good war in the next issue, the last one being a general review of the subject.


          “I wish to say, first of all, that my opponent is entirely mistaken in regard to my last article being an ‘intended irruption on Culler.’  It only contains my opinion on the subject discussed.


          “In my opinion vaccination never has prevented smallpox, at least not to the extent that it could be called a preventative.  It entered the ranks of the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, often attacking a larger number of those who were supposed to be immune from attacks, thus proving the vaccinated more susceptible to the disease than the unvaccinated.  I hold that a preventative should at least come up to the simple definition of the word-viz. should prevent.


          “The facts that I gave in my last article my opponent has neither denied nor contradicted but instead has treated a variety of subjects illustrating them with examples until one is puzzled to know whether he is discussing the vaccination question, is writing his biography, or preaching the gospel.


          “A medical enthusiast of vaccination says this in its favor.  Vaccination, if properly performed, will prevent smallpox and where it will not prevent, it will modify the disease.”   One may add, and where it will not modify, it will prove fatal.  If it will not cure, it will kill.


          “A. M. Ross, M.D. A.M., an eminent physician of Toronto, Canada, in writing about the Montreal smallpox epidemic of 1885 said, ‘Whoever closely watched the course of the epidemic in Montreal must conclude that vaccination is utterly useless as a preventative from smallpox.  Much of what transpired in our smallpox hospitals was suppressed, especially whatever was likely to operate against the progress of vaccination, which proves a golden harvest for the vaccinators, but notwithstanding the conspiracy of silence, a few official reports came out, pregnant with proof against vaccination, and demonstrating beyond question that a large proportion of the patients admitted to our smallpox hospitals had been vaccinated and that many of them died, some with two, others with three vaccine marks, upon their bodies.’      


          “I have acted upon my opponent’s suggestion and have lifted my hat from my eyes, but only to see more clearly the folly of vaccination and the injustice of a law that will make it compulsory.


          “If the compulsory vaccination law in England has been repealed, it is because of rebellious people and not because of a lack of virtue in vaccination,’ declares my opponent.  How about American people, are they also rebellious?  Ninety-five per cent of the population of every community where the compulsory law is in force are indignantly protesting against it.


          The people of Italy had been well vaccinated at least 20 years before the epidemic of 1887; why then did it not prevent the disease from becoming so general?  They are converting the hospitals into workshops perhaps because smallpox has killed all the inmates and they are no longer needed.


          ‘We pay our lawyers, doctors and ministers to think for us!’ exclaims my worthy opponent.  True, very true, but how do we know that they are thinking aright for us?  Are we sure that we are not paying too much for our whistles?  For my part I would no more expect to gain strength from someone eating my dinner than to gain ideas and conclusions from someone thinking for me.


          “The smallpox excitement in this vicinity several years ago was largely to some energetic thinking by some expert doctors who pronounced the disease smallpox, ordered all who came in contact with those who had symptoms of the disease to be quarantined, guarded the public roads and put the community to a great expense and inconvenience when subsequently it turned out to be chicken pox, or some form of itch, and indeed if it was smallpox it was an exceptionally mild form of it, and did not have any of the terrors that my opponent attributes to the disease, for everyone that had it went through it without a scratch.”


          In the week of February 16 another writer, John  G. Palmer, added his opinions to the argument against vaccination.  He wrote the following:  “Ed. Journal -W.A. Culler in the Journal of Jan26th trots out the old scare crow about the ‘terrible death monster‘-smallpox.  He says it has no cure and that the disease cannot be modified.  Unfurling this scare crow to the breezes is one method to bolster up the dying superstition of vaccination.  What proof has Mr. Culler for this rash statement?  Intelligent and honest physicians concede that smallpox is a disease most easily cured, is entirely unattended with danger, and is not contagious when good ventilation and cleanliness are observed.  Old women, herbal doctors, and hydropaths have no difficulty in curing the disease.


          “Why does he wish to make a scare crow of this particular disease?  Scarlet fever, diphtheria, and even measles, are more difficult to cure and are more fatal than smallpox.  There is no vaccination for the purpose of preventing these diseases; and if vaccinations were discontinued, and also the remunerative privileges that accrue therefrom, the doctors would soon abandon it.


          “‘As a preventive vaccination has proven fruitful beyond question.’  Can Mr. Culler substantiate this?  We have those in our midst who have been successfully vaccinated and then contracted smallpox in its very worst form.  Will Mr. Culler please produce one genuine case that was prevented from having smallpox by being vaccinated?  Just one please.  Perhaps Mr. Culler refers to those who have been killed by vaccination as examples who have been prevented from contracting smallpox. There is no doubt about it that vaccination has laid many of its victims low in death.  I personally know of several cases.


          “How can Mr. Culler  square his ‘fruitful preventive’ theory with statistics.  In the kingdom of Bavaria during the epidemic of smallpox, there were 30,721 cases of smallpox of whom 29,429 had been vaccinated.  During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, there were 23,469 smallpox cases in the French army, all of whom had been vaccinated, the larger part re-vaccinated.  In1871 smallpox was epidemic in Milan, there being 17,109 cases -all vaccinated except 278.  But it is useless to enumerate.


          “The fact that Mr. Culler and his school were vaccinated without consulting anyone is no credit to him.  How would Mr. Culler have felt if one of those children under his care would have contracted an incurable disease or sickened with tetanus and died?  If one had died it would have been nothing short of murder.  Who would have been guilty?  Have the poor innocent sweet children have no rights whatsoever?  To whom Mr. Culler has the ‘say’ to children?  Who rears and clothes them?  Who nurses them in sickness and buries them in death?  Think of the anguish that the death of one of those innocents at the hands of this modern ‘Moloch’ must cause the mother of the child?  No, no, Mr. Culler, if you admit that was right, then you must admit that the State or its agents-the police or constables have the right to invade the sanctity of the home, vaccinate, poison, murder, without let or hindrance, without cause or trial.  That will do for Russia, but it is not what our heroic ancestors poured out their precious blood for.


          “Vaccination has no scientific basis whatever, and only a long record of suffering, torture, disease and death to recommend it.  Many millions who have not been vaccinated pass through life without contracting smallpox.  Then why compel vaccination against a disease you may never have?  You might as well enforce inoculation with alcohol to prevent as possibility of getting drunk. “Faith, fanatic faith, once wedded fast/To some dear falsehood, hugs it  to the last.’”


          Mr. Glaser had more to say.  In the issue of the Journal that came out during the week of February 23 he wrote:  “Editor, Journal- Mr. W. A. Culler after writing several articles on vaccination and failing to produce the slightest proof in support of his argument has finally concluded to stop.  He did not wish to consume any more space in the Journal.  Very Good.  He should have felt that way long ago.


          “Mr. Culler speaks in parables and in the last issue his text was ‘the Rabbit and the Cat.’  He compares his opponent to a rabbit with dull scratchers, while he reserves the title of cat with sharp claws for himself.  This gives the story in a nutshell and easily explains why Mr. Culler is  so insistent upon vaccination.  It is a good business for scratchers,-scratchers of various types and character.  Those who scratch the arms of innocent children for the purpose of inserting poison therein, as well as those who scratch on paper for the purpose of defending and upholding this old and worn out superstition.  


          “But it is useless to argue the matter any longer and consume any more valuable space in the Journal. I shall let my opponent rest in the consciousness of the man who has done his duty and enjoy the grateful admiration of his friends (who I suppose are doctors).


          “I hope every reader of the Journal has read Mr. John G. Palmer’s article on vaccination, published in last week’s issue.  Mr. Palmer writes fluently and his argument is convincing.  Mr. Culler will find in Mr. Palmer another man who mentions his name often, who calls vaccination a superstition and who has his hat pushed a way down over his eyes.  Our troubles never cease.


          “In conclusion I will thank the Editor of the Journal for  his courtesy and the readers for their indulgence.  P.S.  -I notice in last week’s issue that Rev. W. W. Wolf of Delk is on the sick list.  Is it possible that Mr. Culler’s communication of Feb. 9th ‘sickened’ him?”


          But the letters to the Journal did not end.  Likewise, the controversy did not end but continued for over the next decade.  In 1919 a controversy in Montgomery Township over this mandatory vaccination provided news not just for the local newspaper but also for the Harrisburg Telegraph.  Again some of the articles will be printed here without comment, additions, or deletions.


          The Telegraph of January 30, 1919, included the following article:  “Failure to enforce the compulsory attendance law in Montgomery township, this county, [Franklin] because of opposition among the residents of the township, has resulted in the entrance of three actions in common pleas court of Franklin county, returnable on the first Monday of March.


          “One of the cases was on the petition of Miss Nedia Schaeffer, a teacher in the Highland school Montgomery township, who on January 24, was arraigned before Magistrate John G. Palmer at Bino, this county, on a charge of having neglected to properly report the names of all children to the truant officer.  She was adjudged guilty by the magistrate and fined $20 and costs.  Her appeal followed.


          “The other two cases are appeals brought for similar reasons.  The enforcement of the vaccination law in the township was the cause of the absence from school of many unvaccinated pupils as the people of that community are out of sympathy with vaccination, believing that it is form of ‘hex doctoring.’”


          On February 18 the Telegraph printed the following:  “A situation requiring the wisdom of Solomon exists in the Bino section of Montgomery township, this county.  The anti-vaccination sentiment that community has been raising quite a stir since the opening of the schools last September, and it now culminates in fourteen suits brought against thirteen patrons of the school district.


          Several weeks ago two teachers of that township, Miss Hazel Gift
 and Mrs. Neida [sic] Schaeffer, were prosecuted for admitting to their schools children who were not vaccinated.  Squire John G. Palmer, of Bino, heard their cases and fined each teacher heavily.  The two teachers took appeals and their appeals will be heard here [Chambersburg] at the April term of court.


          “As a result of the prosecution, the teachers began to refuse admission to unvaccinated pupils, and these children were then allowed to remain at home because their parents were opposed to vaccination.  Then J. P. Hege, a school board director of Montgomery township, took action by bringing prosecution against thirteen of the delinquent parents:  John C. Carbaugh, E. S. Kadle, M. S. Bricker, T. C. Bloyer, C. C. Niswander, D. M. Smith, J. O. Kriner, J. E. Henneberger, Charles Y. Garling, D. W. Hawbecker, E. M. Lindsay, Abe Robison and William Elliott.  Six different schools of the township figure in the case.”


          In March the parents in a hearing that lasted from 10 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon were fined by Magistrate McNulty $2 each as the two teachers had been earlier fined $20 and costs by Magistrate Palmer.  However, those fined appealed their cases through  their attorneys so that in the beginning of June Judge W. Rush Gillan of  the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County heard their cases and dismissed charges against both the teachers and the parents and directed the county to pay the costs.



Note:  I am indebted to Sharon Daley for the information from the Harrisburg Telegraph.


Back to Mercersburg Area