Episode 301: From Inoculation to Vaccination, Part 1

Smallpox was the most feared disease in North America and in many parts of the world before its eradication in 1980. So how did early Americans live with smallpox and work to prevent it? How did they help eradicate this terrible disease?

Over the next two episodes, we’ll explore smallpox in North America. We’ll investigate how smallpox came to North America, how North Americans worked to contain, control, and prevent outbreaks of the disease, and how the story of smallpox is also the story of immunization.

In this episode, we join experts Dr. René Najera, Farren Yero, Ben Mutschler, and Andrew Wehrman for a journey through the history of smallpox and the world’s first immunization procedure: inoculation.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

Smallpox was the most feared disease in North America and in many parts of the world before its eradication in 1980. The history of smallpox allows us to see how the disease and the world’s first immunization procedure, inoculation, made their way to North America. It also allows us to see how early Americans at first challenged and then adopted measures of smallpox control and prevention in the name of public health.

In this episode we speak with Ben Mutschler, a history professor at Oregon State University and author of The Province of Affliction: Illness and the Making of New England; René Najera, a Doctor of Public Health, an Epidemiologist and Director of The History of Vaccines: An Educational Resource by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia; Farren Yero, a post-doctoral associate in the department of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Duke University and the 2022 post-doctoral fellow at the Omohundro Institute; and Andrew Wehrman, Associate Professor of History at Central Michigan University and author of the forthcoming book, “The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the Revolutionary Era”.

What You’ll Discover

  • The suspected origins of the variola virus, or Smallpox
  • The suspected origins of the procedure of inoculation
  • What it was like to have Smallpox and how it was treated
  • When and how Europeans learned about inoculation
  • When and how Smallpox made its way to North America
  • How an epidemic of Smallpox was different in the colonies versus mainland England
  • Cotton Mather and his involvement in the 1721 Inoculation Controversy
  • The religious, scientific, and racial debates behind the Inoculation Controversy
  • The 1721 Boston Smallpox Epidemic
  • Zabdiel Boylston’s Inoculation Research

Links to People, Places, and Publications

Series Music

Music in this episode has been licensed through Blue Dot Sessions 

Sponsor Links

Omohundro Institute
The World of the Wampanoag Series

Support Ben Franklin's World

Join Us!! Become a Ben Franklin’s World Member. Subscribe and help us bring history right to your ears!

Complementary Episodes

Episode 005: Jeanne Abrams, Revolutionary Medicine
Episode 116: Erica Charters, Disease & the Seven Years’ War
Episode 174: Thomas Apel, Yellow Fever in the Early American Republic
Episode 263: Sari Altschuler, The Medical Imagination
Episode 273: Victoria Johnson, David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Early Republic
Episode 276: Stephen Fried, Benjamin Rush

Questions, Comments, Suggestions

Do you have a question, comment, or suggestion?

Get in Touch! Send me an e-mail, tweet, or leave a comment.



Enjoy the Podcast?

Why Not Listen regularly through one of these apps?

| Listen on Google Podcasts | Listen to Stitcher |

If you enjoy this podcast, please give it a rating and review.

Positive ratings and reviews help bring Ben Franklin's World to the attention of other history lovers who may not be aware of our show

Click here to rate & review on iTunes | Click here to rate & review on Stitcher

More from this show