Friday, March 27, 2015

16. Another War at Home

Nancy’s brief entry for September 11 in her 1944 diary revealed that while we were still fighting the axis in World War II, we were also fighting a war against a highly contagious disease growing up in Gettysburg:
School was supposed to start today but was postponed ’til next Monday    because of polio. It should have started last Tuesday.”
Poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis, was the most feared disease of our childhood, often leaving those who were infected with an inability to function. It was, and still is, a highly contagious disease. 

In August of ’44, as Nancy and I were preparing to enter eighth grade in Gettysburg, the county medical director delayed school openings and closed our only public swimming pool. Children were not permitted in public places including the movie theaters, stores, church services and Sunday School.  At first, it was reported that the ban applied to children under sixteen, but later, medical authorities announced that children who were sixteen must adhere to the restrictions. 

The initial school ban in Gettysburg went into effect on August 21, but when no new cases of polio occurred in the County, health authorities lifted the ban and school was to begin on September 11. Then a new case of polio was discovered, and as Nancy’s diary indicates, school was postponed again for another week. 

Nancy’s diary also suggests that she continued to be active, working in the family Victory Garden, playing games and roller skating with friends or riding her bike on the Battlefield.

The polio epidemic peaked in 1952 when 58,000 cases were reported in the United States. Today, polio vaccines developed in the Fifties have eliminated the disease in all but a few countries around the world.

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