Race for a Cure


Dr. David M. Oshinsky

George Littlefield Professor of American History
The University of Texas at Austin
2006 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Polio: An American Story

What is the talk about?

Polio was the most feared disease of the middle part of the 20th century. Every child everywhere was at risk of catching this horrific disease that had no prevention or cure. Thousands of children died and thousands more were paralyzed. The March of Dimes campaign had a tremendous impact on public awareness and created the largest research and rehabilitation network in the history of medicine. Polio vaccinations have transformed this nightmare into one of the greatest public health successes in American history. Dr. David Oshinsky, author of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book Polio: An American Story, will tell the enthralling story of America’s battle with polio, the terror it caused, and the intense effort to find a cure. Dr. Oshinsky’s book examines the 1950s polio scare, recounts famous tales from the war on polio, and reveals some of the fascinating forgotten stories. Many researchers were involved in the great race for the cure. This lecture will address the essential role played by forgotten female polio researchers, the bitter battle between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin in the competition to discover a polio vaccine, and the benefits and drawbacks of live and killed viruses. In 1954, Salk’s killed virus vaccine was administered to more than a million children in the largest public health experiment in American history. Although this was considered the breakthrough that would end polio, Sabin’s live virus vaccine quickly became preferred and is still in use today. These vaccines and their implementation and use caused much controversy and revolutionized government responsibility for the testing and licensing of vaccines. Today, thanks to vaccinations and education of the public about the need to vaccinate, polio is a disease that can potentially be wiped off the face of the earth

About our presenter

Dr. David M. Oshinsky

Dr. David M. Oshinsky

David M. Oshinsky, George Littlefield Professor of American History at the University of Texas at Austin, is a leading historian of modern American politics and society. He was supported by an Irving and Rose Crown Fellowship while he pursued his doctorate in American civilization from Brandeis. In 1991, after nearly 30 years at Rutgers University in New Jersey, he joined the faculty at the University of Texas. Dr. Oshinsky specializes in 20th Century U.S. political and cultural history and has written many books. His recently published book, Polio: An American Story (Oxford University Press, 2005), won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in the History category and was featured on The Lehrer News Hour, NPR’s Science Friday and numerous other national outlets. His other books that have won major prizes include A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy, which won the Hardeman Prize as the best book about the U.S. Congress, and Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice, which won the 17th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for its contribution to human rights. He is a co-author of American Passages: A History of the United States and a co-editor of The Oxford Companion to United States History. His articles and reviews appear regularly in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Chronicle of Higher Education.

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