Distinguished Lecturers
Andrew Wehrman

Andrew Wehrman

Andrew Wehrman is an associate professor of history at Central Michigan University where he teaches classes on early American history, the American Revolution, and the history of medicine. He is the author of The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution (2022), which was named one of the best books of the year by Harvard Public Health Magazine and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history. He has also written articles for NBC News, The Boston Globe, and the Washington Post among others. Wehrman has appeared on C-SPAN, NPR, and numerous podcasts where he seeks to put current debates over public health and vaccination into historical context.

OAH Lectures by Andrew Wehrman

The Siege of Castle Pox or the destruction of Essex Hospital in January 1774 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, is one of least known but most explosive events in the history of the American Revolution and the history of public health. A group of sailors destroyed an expensive private inoculation hospital meant to protect residents from an epidemic of smallpox. This lecture will detail the crisis and explain why these sailors destroyed the building. (Hint: they were not anti-inoculation but rather wanted inoculation to be provided for all for free). It’s a story that has implications for the study of the Revolution itself but also has interesting parallels for our own times with COVID-19 and the rise of anti-vaccination movements.

How did Americans respond when they learned of Edward Jenner’s discovery of vaccination for smallpox? This lecture will explore the origins of vaccination and how it was implemented in the United States. While many were eager to vaccinate themselves and their children, struggles emerged as doctors sought to profit from the procedure, and some groups (especially enslaved people and Native Americans) were largely kept from receiving it. Debates over these early vaccination policies and President Thomas Jefferson’s enthusiastic private but restrained public response shaped the way Americans have responded to vaccination and public health over the centuries.

This lecture details the fervent enthusiasm for inoculation against smallpox held by Americans in the 1760s and 1770s. Ordinary Americans across the Colonies (Boston, Norfolk, Charleston, etc.) demanded that their governments provide inoculation or access to inoculation to the public. This pressure changed laws in many colonies turned states, pressured George Washington to inoculate the Continental Army, and ultimately shaped public health policy in the new United States

With a smallpox epidemic raging during the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington was forced to order the mandatory inoculation of the Continental Army. Washington, however, did not have to convince fearful colonists to protect themselves against smallpox—they were the ones demanding it. This lecture will explain the threat that smallpox posed to the American army and explain how General Washington changed his mind about inoculating the troops--a momentous action that helped win the Revolutionary War.


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