In 1894, the first polio epidemic swept through America. In the following decades outbreaks cropped up every few years, usually during the warm summer months. Polio, which affected the nervous and muscular system, was particularly dangerous for children. In the early 1900s, thousands of children were crippled by the disease; others were placed in Iron Lungs to help them breathe after the disease paralyzed their lungs. One of the most famous victims of Polio was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who became paralyzed after the disease spread to the muscles in his legs.
In the 1950s, a vaccine for the disease was discovered by Jonas Salk. And in 1955, the government mandated Polio vaccinations across the nation. So, along with children across the country, nearly 700 first and second grade children from Junction City and the rural county schools were immunized with the Salk Anti- Polio Vaccine at the City-County Health Center. And boy, they were not happy about it!
Each child received an unpleasant shot—which made it difficult to sit for the next few days—and the Daily Union was there to capture it on camera. Along with a photograph of children lined up to register for their immunization with their mothers, the Daily Union also published a photograph of two children in the middle of the trying ordeal.
As if getting the shot wasn’t enough! Jimmy Donahoo and Janet Marie O’Neill both had their pictures taken while receiving the vaccination, which would later be printed in the local paper. Janet Marie O’Neill, a second grader at St. Xavier’s school, had her photo taken during her first dose of the shot. The poor little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Marvin O’Neill hid part of her face in her pillow as two nurses administered the shot. Jimmy, who lived at on W. 8th St. at the time of the vaccinations, didn’t hide his face, but he did not look too happy about the whole ordeal as Dr. Bunker is seen injecting him with the vaccine. The immunization required multiple doses and Jimmy was one of 413 children to receive the second shot. Dr. H.L. Bunker Jr. and Mrs. Jackie Hammer were among the health officials to administer the shots to the county’s children.
Nearly 4 million shots were administered across the nation in 1955. Cases of polio in the U.S. dropped from 14,647 in 1955 to 5,894 in 1956, and by 1959 some 90 other countries were using Salk's vaccine. For the children of Geary County, the shot they received was an unpleasant experience, only slightly sweetened by the lollipop they received for their pain, but because of the immunizations of the 1950s, Polio is considered an eradicated disease in the Western Hemisphere today.
Were you one of the 700 children in the Geary County area to receive a polio vaccination in 1955? If so, the Geary County Historical Society would love to hear your story!
Interested in learning more about early medical procedures? Stop into the museum this February to explore a new display, "Healing Geary County," to discover more about medicine in 20th Century Geary County. The Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday 1-4pm.
Janet Marie O’Neill hides behind her pillow as she receives her first immunization, while Jimmy Donahoo stoically receives his second shot from Dr. Bunker and Mrs. Hammer.