Curators at Work: Stamping Out Smallpox: The History of the First Vaccine

Time Period
1764 to 1824
1825 to 1860
1861 to 1876
1877 to 1924
1925 to Today
Media Type
Science & Technology
VMHC Curators

As we entered our second year of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in 2021, we asked: have you ever wondered how Virginians fought infectious disease in the past? This program explored the history of smallpox, a contagious and deadly disease that had plagued humans from ancient times until its eradication in the late 20th century. An important step in this global health victory was the 1796 development of a vaccine, the first ever against an infectious disease. Join curator Karen Sherry to learn more about the history of smallpox, its impact on Virginians, and related artifacts in the VMHC’s collection—including one item that prompted a visit from the Centers for Disease Control!

For more information on this topic, here are some recommendations from Dr. Sherry:

  • An informative timeline about smallpox and other infectious diseases
  • Michael B. A. Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, & History: Past, Present, and Future (Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • Frank M. Snowden, Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (Yale University Press, 2019)
  • David Koplow, Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge (University of California Press, 2003)