Polio & Repro-Time

I never expected my Epidemics in History class to have anything to do with this class.  And then I was reading primary source documents for my final paper and as the patients were explaining how they contracted polio and then how it affected their lives I just kept thinking about repro-time.

The document I was reading is “Polio Voices: An Oral History form the American Polio Epidemics and Worldwide Eradication Efforts.”  Essentially it is a compilation of firsthand accounts of polio victims.  After writing my history paper I went back and looked at the narrations to look at how polio affected repro-time or how the victims said polio affected their lives in terms of repro-time.

Samuel McKnight was born with polio because his mother contracted it while she was pregnant.  His mother eventually died of the disease.  McKnight was raised by his grandparents and his father left because of the damage caused by polio.

Priscilla Dewey Houghton sent her children away after she contracted polio in the hope that they would be spared the disease.  Later he son said he felt deprived by having his mother taken away from him at that stage of his life.  The boy was five when he was sent away.

Fred Bloom built a house for his family and his brother’s.  Specifically the house had a level that was wheelchair accessible for his quadriplegic brother.

Carol Cox was denied enrollment to public school in the first grade because she had suffered from polio.

Edward O’Connor said “you lied a lot because you couldn’t tell potential employers that you had polio – you would never get hired.”

Judith Ellen Hewmann said that the disability she suffered because of polio was worse than the disease.  She was disabled before there was any kind of legislation in our government and she also suffered a lack of employment.

During one of our class lectures my professor stated that during the highpoint of the polio epidemic marriages often suffered.  Specifically she stated that women who suffered paralysis to their arms were more likely to have their marriages end and/or it was rare for them to marry or remarry.

It isn’t groundbreaking to say that illness affects lives in a critical way but I thought it was really interesting to see how drastically polio influenced changes — particularly if you had to live the remainder of your life in an iron lung.   While reading this document I started to think if there was ever a time when repro-time actually existed.  All throughout our existence there has been disease to disrupt our lives so maybe that’s all the more reason to ignore repro-time because it is legitimately just in our heads.

Silver, Julie, and Wilson, Daniel. ”Polio Voices.” London, England: Praeger. 24-91.


— Megan Hruska


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