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

1181 words - 5 pages

The 1950's represented the cold war era, symbolized by the red scare, anti-communism, potential nuclear war, and McCarthyism. Patriotic loyalty and conformity demonstrated an allegiance to our country. Citizens who spoke out against US government policies experienced surveillance, being black listed, and labeled communists. 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 first shock wears off that you-- in fact, have the disease than the fight for your life begins. This highly contagious illness was unknowingly transmitted by close contact and in fecal matter. Unfortunately, many poor and middle class families' contracted this viral disease, which rapidly destroyed motor-neurons to arms, legs, and diaphragm muscles. Ironically, improved twentieth- century sanitation practices like enclosed sewers and indoor plumbing were cited for this delayed childhood disease. Younger breastfeeding toddlers received maternal antibodies that protected them from the virus. However, older children did not have this immune advantage, they suffered more debilitative disabilities. Sadly, children under fifteen years old, experienced the highest rates of contracting infantile paralysis. Similarly, adults encountered severe poliomyelitis complications rendering them total care or requiring the iron lung to aid with 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 societal improvements such as caring for the indignant, the mentally ill, and homeless children. The women's suffrage movement advanced hygiene and sanitation practices like municipal housekeeping, public bathing houses, and clean drinking water reduced the number of airborne illnesses and deaths.
There was a gender stereotypical shift that occurred during the 1940's and 1950's. Women returned to the home after WW II and former soldiers resumed their high paid civilian jobs. Product marketing focused on women as feminine, domestic goddesses that had the latest cleaning technology to keep up immaculate homes. The career...

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