Long before threats to public health were coordinated by the Center for Disease
Control, the response to epidemic disease handled almost entirely at the local level,
with support provided only when needed from provincial governments. Using Rhode
Island as a case study, WRICHS Archivist Mark Kenneth Gardner will outline the
provincial laws that gave sweeping authority to town officials to act in the best interest
of the community. At the same time efforts by officials to prevent outbreaks in the first
place through inoculation and vaccination were often met with fierce local opposition.
With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, opposition to vaccination programs in
neighboring Massachusetts were ultimately settled by the Supreme Court. And
conflicting priorities over public health, civil liberties and individual freedom are alive
and well today despite the victory of medical science over the variola virus.
Mark Kenneth Gardner (@HistoryGardner and ahistorygarden.blogspot.com)
is an educator and public historian who serves on the board of trustees for the Center
for South County History and Culture in Kingston RI, and is the archivist for the Western
Rhode Island Civic Historical Society.