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Women As Societies' Change Agents During The 1950's Polio Epidemic

1025 words - 4 pages

The 1950's represented the cold war era, symbolized by the red scar, anti-communism, potential nuclear war, and McCarthyism. Patriotic loyalty was stressed, any citizen who spoke out against the US government policies was labeled a communist and was often black listed and put under surveillance. The sensationalized conviction and execution of the Rosenberg's for spying, jeopardized our countries' national security and reinforced anti-communism propaganda. Moreover, students practiced emergency ducking under their desk drills to prepare for a nuclear fallout and families purchased bomb shelter for protection. The hyper-vigilance, fear, paranoia, and post traumatic stress that permeated our country's landscape of being under siege, intensified with the polio epidemic.
Verbally expressing the word “POLIO” brings forth anxiety, trepidation, and thoughts of mortality, crippled bodies, and iron lungs. Once the initial shock wears off that you-- in fact, have the disease than the fight for your life begins. This highly contagious illness was passed by close contact and through fecal matter, despite improved sanitation practices. Unfortunately, many poor and middle class families' contracted this viral disease, which rapidly destroyed motor-neurons to arms, legs, and diaphragm muscles. Ironically,improved sanitation practices were blamed for this delayed childhood disease. Younger breastfeeding children received maternal antibodies whereas older children did not have this similar immune advantage. Sadly, children under fifteen years old, experienced the highest rates of contracting this malady. Adults also experienced severe poliomyelitis complications rendering them total care or requiring the iron lung to perform their breathing. Both the patient and family caregivers experienced a multitude of emotions: pain, powerless, and grief during acute, rehabilitative and chronic disability stages.


The Progressive Movement focused on social activism, reform and upgrading the community health and living standards. Married women expanded their homemaking and parenting roles to include caring for the larger community, which lead to improvements. The women's suffrage movement advanced hygiene and sanitation practices like municipal housekeeping, public bathing houses, and clean drinking water to reduce the number of airborne illnesses and deaths.
In the 1940-1950's there was a gender stereotypical shift that occurred, women returned to the home after WW II, so deployed soldiers held high paying jobs. Product marketing focused on women being feminine, domestic goddesses that had the latest cleaning technology to maintain immaculate homes. The career homemaker's job description focused on service to others like raising and home schooling their children, tending the infirm, and improving the well being of the greater community.
Beyond the suffrage movement, the polio crisis gave...

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