Today’s blog post is by History of Vaccines intern Carley Roche.
The anti-vaccination movement has had some ardent supporters since its inception. One of the most prominent figures of this movement was Lora Cornelia Little. Little was born in a log house on March 26, 1856, in Waterville, Minnesota Territory. Growing up she was introduced to ideas of water-cure and phrenology by reading journals and her father’s books.
She married an engineer named Elijah Little, and together they had one child, a son named Kenneth Marion Little. In April 1896, just three months after Kenneth’s seventh birthday, he died. Lora blamed his death on the smallpox vaccine. But, as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia notes, “…Mrs. Little’s son, Kenneth, was vaccinated in September 1895 and died in April 1896. Between the time of inoculation and death, he suffered recurrent ear and throat infections, measles and diphtheria. The latter was the ultimate cause of his death. Mrs. Little pointed to ‘the artificial pollution of the blood,’ [that] had fatally weakened his constitution and left him at the mercy of the subsequent infections.” Her lifelong crusade against vaccines began with this belief that being vaccinated had made Kenneth susceptible to the illness that followed.
In 1898 the Littles moved to Minneapolis due to Elijah’s work. Here Little founded The Liberator, a monthly magazine that espoused ideas condemning modern medicine, drugs, and vaccination. She praised healthy diets and active lifestyles in her magazine and fully believed that these two factors could even prevent all maladies from infections to cancer. While The Liberator was a highly successful magazine in the U.S. anti-vaccination movement during its five year run from 1900-1905, it cost Little her marriage to Elijah.
Despite setbacks in her personal life, Little continued to spread her ideals across America. In 1906 she self-published Crimes of the Cowpox Ring: Some Moving Pictures Thrown on the Dead Wall of Official Science. In this short exposé LIttle claimed that doctors performing vaccinations were putting children in danger in order to become wealthy. Her success in America allowed her to tour the United Kingdom from 1907 to 1908.
Not all of Little’s tours were successful, however. In 1916 during a pan-American tour sponsored by the Medical Education Freedom Committee of Battle Creek Lora was imprisoned in North Dakota. While visiting the state’s servicemen she told them to resist vaccination, which they were required to receive. Under the Espionage Act she was arrested for inciting mutiny. This as well as her impassioned tours speaking against modern science and vaccination led to life-long monitoring by the Propaganda Department of the American Medical Association.
Settling in Chicago, Illinois, Little spent the last years of her life as the secretary of the American Medical Liberty League. After the loss of her only child she led a life believing she could save other mothers from the same grief that she had felt. Lora C. Little passed away in October of 1931 at the age of 75.
Allen, A. (2007). Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Little, Lora. C. (1905). Autobiographical. The Liberator, 6(4), 94-117.
Walloch, K. A. (2015). The Antivaccine Heresy: Jacobson v. Massachusets and the Troubled History of Compulsory Vaccination in the United States. Boydell and Brewder. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt18kr6pf
Williams, G. (2010). Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox. London, Palgrave Macmillan.