The anti-vaccination movement

Anti-vaccination cartoon, 1890s. From the Scrapbook of Anti-Vaccinations Clippings. Call number: 8c242.
Anti-vaccination cartoon, 1890s. From the Scrapbook of Anti-Vaccinations Clippings. Call number: 8c242.

The anti-vaccination movement has been around nearly as long as the usage of vaccinations. Vaccines were first used as early as 10th century in China in the form of inoculations which is a slightly different process than vaccination. Inoculation uses the live and non-weakened form of the virus, while vaccinations use dead or weaken forms of viruses. The Western world didn’t begin the use of inoculations until the early 1700s.

Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister from Massachusetts, introduced large scale smallpox inoculations amongst his congregation in 1721 during an outbreak of the disease, but pushback came in the form of local clergymen and physicians opposed to the inoculations. Edward Jenner, who worked as a zoologist, scientist, and physician in England during the 1770s and 80s, was the first to inoculate patients from cowpox in England. Being such a new concept to the Western world, vaccines were in use in only a small population and very few knew what was the actual process was. Even Jenner was still working out the fine details of the inoculation to make it safer to implement. Despite the process being effective and Jenner being a Christian himself, there were groups who disagreed with his inoculations because of their own religious beliefs.

Although objectors to the vaccinations were adamant in their beliefs, most states, as well as the country of England, eventually passed their own laws on the need for a vaccinated population. Objections to these laws were due to the compulsory nature of the Acts. The 1898 Act added a clause that allowed “conscientious objectors” to refuse the vaccination. Through this clause parents could apply for an exemption from inoculations for themselves and their children. The Historical Medical Library (HML) holds a book called Sanitation v. Vaccination (1912), which argues that improvements in sanitation is what lowered the cases of diseases that were having devastating effects on the populations around the world.

There are many more examples like this in the form of pamphlets, books, news clippings, and images. One of the more recent historical anti-vaccination writings in the Library is from the United Lodge of Theophists (India, 1955) “Against Vaccination and Vivisection”. At the time of the publishing of this pamphlet, the anti-vaccination movement continued to argue against compulsory inoculations and were under the impression that Jenner had used his fortune that he made from his findings to push Parliament in his direction and fund the National Vaccine Establishment.

The Library holds many more items with examples of how the anti-vaccination movement has evolved over the years. From objections to vaccinations because of religious beliefs, then anti-compulsory issues, to mistrust in the governments and medical doctors that pushed for vaccinations: all of these reasons contribute to the anti-vaccination movements today.

The links below will direct you to the catalog record or finding aid of the resource listed.  Remember to check our library catalog and finding aids – these are only some of the great sources we have about the anti-vaccination movement!

Primary sources

scrapbookAnti-vaccination scrapbook, undated
Call number: Z8c 11


docbox-croppedRecords of the Anti-Vaccination Society of America, 1885
Call number: 10c 98


scrapbookScrapbook of anti-vaccination clippings, 1892
Call number: 8c 242


docbox-croppedAn Argument for and Against: The Compulsory Vaccination of School Children…
By C . N. Haskell, 1908
Call number: Homeopathy Pam vol.181, no.14


book-croppedBoth sides of the Vaccination question. The fallacy of Vaccination/What vaccination has really done
by John Pitcairn/Jay Franklin Schamberg, 1911
Call number: Dk 99


book-croppedLeicester: Sanitation versus Vaccination: its vital statistics compared with those of other towns, the army, navy, Japan, and England and Wales
by J . T. Biggs, circa 1912
Call number: Dk 264


docbox-croppedReplies to pro-vaccination arguments
by the National Anti-Vaccination League, circa 1944
Call number: Pam 847


docbox-croppedAgainst Vaccination and Vivisection
by United Lodge of Theosophists, 1955
Call number: Pam 14684


Secondary sources

magazineVaccination (journal)
Volumes 6-8, 1904-1906
Call number: Serial, Vaccination


book-croppedCotton Mather: First Significant Figure in American Medicine
by Otho T. Beall, 1954
Call number: 1b 2178


book-croppedThe eradication of smallpox: Edward Jenner and the first and only eradication of a human infectious disease
by H. Bazin, 2000
Call number: WZ 100 J54 BA 2000


PC-ComputerThe History of Vaccines (website)
Created by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia



*Content written by Patrick Elgert, Temple University Cultural Fieldwork Initiative intern