Thanks to Barbara Flynn of C.H.E.R.U.B.S. in New Jersey for transcribing the following
eye-opening historical account. The following story was printed in The Searchlight -- a popular turn of the century
expose publication. There was a huge anti-vaccination movement in both England and America during a time when
governments were making smallpox inoculations compulsory,
causing much death and suffering. Is history repeating itself?
DR. RODERMUND'S EXPERIMENT
On Monday January 21, 1901 about 11:30 AM I entered the residence of Mr.---, where Miss
Stark was confined with the smallpox.
As I enter the house Mr.--- jumped from his chair and said: "We are not allowed to let anyone
enter this house."
"Never mind," I said, "I am not anybody, so perhaps you made no mistake."
I then stated that I came to see the smallpox patient.
"There she is," he said, pointing towards a young woman in a far corner of the room. Mrs.---sat by
the window sewing, while a child about two years old ran about the room.
"Are you afraid of taking smallpox from the girl?" I asked.
"No," replied the mother, "we are not afraid."
"But the doctors say this disease is very contagious: are they not very careless and negligent in not
keeping this patient away from the rest of the family? This is a genuine case of smallpox, just see the
large pustules full of pus. Of course I know you can't take the disease from another."
Then to show them that this was true, I broke open several of the large pustules on her face and
arms and took the pus out of them and smeared it all over my face, hands, beard and clothes and at
the same time remarked that I would go home to dinner.
I mentioned nothing of the affair to my family during the meal and went directly to my office without
telling anyone. The first person who came in the office was an old friend, Rev. T, who has a parish
at North Milwaukee. We shook hands heartily, in fact, I had entirely forgotten that I was covered
with smallpox poison. I presented him with one of my books and, according to our scientific and
willful deceivers of the public, I must have covered the book and gentleman with smallpox germs,
and he in return must have exposed many people in Appleton, those he met on the train, and finally
his whole congregation. The germs on the book, I suppose are still enjoying themselves in the
spiritual home of the reverend gentleman.
During the same afternoon I touched the faces of several persons in my office while treating their
eyes and fitting glasses. From 4 to 6 and from 5 to 10 o'clock the same afternoon I was at the
Business Men's Club, where I mingled and played cards with the members.
In the evening the conversation drifted to the smallpox case I had visited in the morning. After
discussing the subject for a while, one of them asked me if I would visit a smallpox patient and then
go home to my family. I quietly remarked that I would just as soon do it as visit a patient with a
Finally, Mr. Dickinson, cashier in one of our banks, remarked rather sarcastically: "Now, doctor,
what's the use of talking such nonsense, you would no more think of visiting a smallpox patient and
then go home and sleep with your family than you would go home and shoot one of your children.
You are too sensible for that."
The reader can imagine the state of my mind at that time as none of them had an inkling that I was at
that very time covered with smallpox pus, and that the cards we were playing with were being
loaded with this poison. Still, I never once mentioned my visit to them. Further, I would never have
gone to the club rooms if I had had the least idea that my actions would ever be known, as I know
the sentiment of these gentlemen and I also had too much respect for them and myself, to impose
upon their feelings, even if I did know that their belief was a foolish superstition. I have done similar
acts dozens of times during the past fifteen years and have in each instance watched the results and
not the slightest harm has ever been done to anyone.
To return to our subject, after leaving the club-rooms that evening, I went home, slept with my
family, and the next morning took the train to Green Bay, without washing any ands or face, and
wearing the same clothes. I took breakfast at Green Bay and then went to the store of Mr. M---,
who had engaged me to fit glasses for his customers on that day. I handled the faces of
twenty-seven persons during the day, besides those I exposed on the streets and in the train when
on my way home.
The next morning (Wednesday) I washed my hands and face, the first time since they had been
smeared with pus 46.5 hours before. When I arrived at my office, I found several reporters waiting
to ascertain if the report were true that I had visited the smallpox patient and had smeared myself
with pus. In the beginning I neither affirmed nor denied the accusation, because I did not want it
known, but upon inquiry I learned that one of the neighbors had seen me come out of the house and
asked the health officer if the family had changed doctors, as she had seen Dr. Rodermund come out
of the house on Monday.
Consequently there was nothing for me to do save tell the exact truth, which I did. The newspapers,
however, mixed untruth with the truth in such a way as to mislead the public. Among other things
they stated that I had personally bragged of what I had done, when they knew I never intended it to
become known to the world until the people were ready to consider such revolutionary truths for
their own benefit.
I was allowed my freedom about the city all day Wednesday but on Thursday the fourth day, I was
quarantined and a guard of policemen stationed around the house. The people had been so scared
by the health officers, doctors, city officials and the newspapers that some of the policemen said that
it was a good thing I was protected by a strong guard, otherwise my life was in danger.
Saturday I broke quarantine in spite of five policemen drove forty miles to Waupaca took the train
for Chicago from there went to Terre Haute, Ind. And on my way back was arrested in Milwaukee
and held for four days in the pest house. This is a brief outline of the whole episode which created
quite a sensation.
The sanctimonious frauds and deceivers of the public (doctors) tried in every way, shape and
manner to trace a case of smallpox to my actions, but with no avail. Even after I had exposed
30,000 people and rubbed my pus-covered hands over thirty-seven faces, they could find nothing
against me. In the near future I will publish a few similar incidents which have happened to me in the
past years, and which are far more interesting than this one.
Why is not one out of the thousands of these medical scoundrels, murderers and deceivers ever
turned up to win the prize which reads as follows:
On thousand dollars will be given to anyone that can prove that the disease is contagious;
also ten dollars for every day it takes him to prove it.
The doctors know that by superstition, the people can best be held. Then I want to ask you, are not
the people more to blame than the doctors?
More than half the public do not believe in contagion, but they lack the courage to say so.
Discussion and argument will never change the present conditions. They never settle a question
where a powerful body of men have law and money on their side. A powerful public sentiment,
combined with true knowledge is the only remedy. As long as you drowse in your old superstitions
these murderers will continue to ruin you constitutions for the money there is in it.
Does any sane man believe that God created such laws which, if disobeyed at any time by one
person, would spread a loathsome disease over a whole nation? This superstition is a blasphemy
upon Almighty justice.
Dr. Rodermund in The Searchlight, 1901
FREDRICK DOUGLASS, US
"I am with you in your opposition to Compulsory Vaccination. My logical faculty was offended at it
long ago. At best it was simply boring one hole to stop another, and now it seems not even to do
that, if men die of small pox after vaccination.
You do me justice when you count me on the side of liberty,
and opposed to every species of
arbitrary power. I am for the largest liberty of thought and conduct
this side of crime. I am no more
in favor of such power when wielded by a majority than when by an
Letter to Professor J. Dossons, MD, Washington DC, Dec. 28, 1989
[Editors note: The above date, (Dec 28, 1989), is uncertain. Fredrick Douglass died in 1895. An online search does not provide any info on
Professor J. Dossons, MD and thus the year may be a typo (I.E. actually 1889), or not a part of the original 1901 publication and thus is perhaps the date
Professor Dossons received the quote from an unnamed 3rd party.]