‘Physician Heal Thyself!’: The Dr. Percy E. Ryberg Papers

Post contributed by Matthew Barrett, Graphic Artist and Historian at the Canadian War Museum

In December 1944, Flight Lieutenant Percy Edward Ryberg was sentenced to dismissal from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) for renting a London apartment with two airmen accused of homosexuality. Ryberg, a medical officer, had earlier published a book, Health, Sex and Birth Control (1942), which included a chapter devoted to understanding homosexuality. The circumstances of the case left me with many questions about Ryberg. I was intrigued to learn that the Rubenstein Library held Dr. Ryberg’s papers.

comic book showing Dr. Ryberg
Graphic history of Ryberg’s court martial, drawn by the author

Thanks to a History of Medicine Collections travel grant from Duke, in September 2019, I was able to explore Ryberg’s history in far more depth. The visit was well worth the trip as his writings and correspondence offered unique insights into his professional career and private life.

Ryberg was born on February 26, 1908 in England but grew up in Argentina. After graduating with a medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires in 1935, Ryberg worked as a physician in the city. Then in 1938 he earned a three-year fellowship to the Mayo Clinic. Following the outbreak of WWII, he joined the RCAF as a medical officer. He served overseas in England until his dismissal in December 1944.

After the end of his military service, Ryberg took up a position in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in June 1945. Within a few years he opened a private psychiatric practice in New York where he also received appointments to various clinics and hospitals. After a medical career that spanned seven decades, Ryberg died on December 16, 2001 at the age of ninety-three.

Despite having read thousands of pages from his diaries, letters, and memos, Ryberg remains something of an enigma to me. His papers reveal the complexity and contradictions of a private life that departed from the ideal he promoted. He wrote about sexual health and rejected judgmental morality but since teenage years he was deeply ambivalent about sex and tried to repress homoerotic feelings. He upheld marriage as the most important and profound experience in life, but privately called his own marriage a “convenience” that he said brought nothing but regret.[1] A constant theme in Ryberg’s life was the ambiguous definition of “normal.” It is a question that the doctor attempted to answer his entire career and was in part what led him to study medicine.

Page from graphic history
Graphic history (in style of Dr. Kildare comics) of Ryberg’s career, drawn by author

Ryberg sometimes acknowledged the contradictions at the center of his own life and professional identity. He complained that the public placed physicians and psychiatrists on pedestals only to express “spiteful triumph” when revered medical authorities are exposed for human faults and thereby “reveal their feet of clay.” He resented such sayings as “‘Practice what you preach!’ Or, ‘Physician, heal thyself!'” Ryberg argued that “the psychiatrist who is honest with himself and with others tries very hard to practice what he preaches, though he, like other people, may not always succeed.”[2]

I have only highlighted a few of the contradictions between his professional advocacy and private life, but his long career and contributions to psychiatry deserve far deeper analysis. I continue to work through his papers to better understand his life and experiences.

For more detail on Ryberg’s court martial and his medical career see my article, “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Doctor: Medical Attitudes toward Homosexuality and the Court Martial of Dr. Percy Ryberg,” recently published in the Canadian Journal of History. It is freely available for a limited time at: https://utpjournals.press/doi/full/10.3138/cjh-2019-0053

Matthew Barrett is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian War Museum. As an artist and historian his postdoc project explores graphic and illustrative storytelling as forms of historical interpretation and analysis.

[1] “Sample Column,” October 1954. Ryberg papers, box 3.

[2] Percy Ryberg, to Barbara Ryberg, 30 Oct 1953. Ryberg papers, box 2.

Early Birds for Lady Bird

Post contributed by Liz Adams, Rare Materials Cataloger

“I don’t know when I’ve ever been so flattered to see so many people getting up this early in the morning.”

Lady Bird Johnson wasn’t exaggerating when she stumped for her husband’s presidential campaign in front of a crowd of 12,000 Durhamites on Wednesday, October 7th, 1964.  It was 6:45 AM when a group of “early birds for Lady Bird” congregated to meet her at the Durham Parking Lot, brandishing free coffee and donuts. It was 7:04 AM when North Carolina politicians—including Terry Sanford  (the governor and future president of Duke)—began their remarks. And it was 7:11 AM when the woman of the hour spoke behind Thalhimer’s department store in downtown Durham, highlighting the “present prosperity” of North Carolina, Lyndon B. Johnson’s familial connections to the state, and the Great Society he planned for the country.

Early Bird for Lady Bird poster
A flyer held by the Rubenstein Library offering free coffee and “do-nuts” for those waking up early to meet Lady Bird Johnson in downtown Durham.

To understand why Lady Bird Johnson stopped in Durham 56 years ago, we need to frame our story: It was 1964, and the Civil Rights Act (CRA) had just gone into effect on July 2nd. According to Hersch & Shinall (2014), the CRA “sought to improve access to voting, public accommodations, and employment as well as improve the overall status of individuals discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin” (p. 425). At its heart, the CRA sought to create equalities where none existed, especially for Black Americans. It was and is an important, imperfect piece of legislation, one that only passed after years of tragedy and occasional triumph, including the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the March on Washington, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Relying on an uneasy coalition of Republican and Democrat votes, Lyndon B. Johnson plowed the CRA through Congress. Southern Democrats and the Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, stood in opposition (Hersch & Shinall, 2014).

Lady Bird Johnson believed in the CRA and her husband. Just as relevant to our story, she was also a native Texan and is quoted saying—in a piece for PBS NewsHour by Judy Woodruff—that she was “proud of the South” and “proud that [she was] part of the South” (2014). Lady Bird Johnson thus knew she needed to act. And so as Meredith Hindley documents in “Lady Bird Special,” on October 6th, she climbed aboard a train named the Lady Bird Special and embarked on a Whistle Stop Tour, a four-day trip winding through eight Southern states. Liaising with local politicians and their partners, she shored up support for the CRA, defended her husband’s past decisions, and fought for his future plans. In total, she gave 47 speeches and traveled over 1600 miles. Occasionally her path intersected with Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign trail, but for the most part, she travelled alone or with her daughters. Finally, on October 9th, 1964, the Lady Bird Special arrived in New Orleans, La., and the President and First Lady of the United States reunited (Hindley, 2013).

28 days later, on Tuesday, November 3rd, 1964, Americans went to the polls. In a landslide victory, Lyndon B. Johnson won 44 states (and Washington, D.C.), 15 million more votes than Barry Goldwater, and 486 Electoral College votes (Levy, 2019). And although five of the six states he lost were in the South, there was a southern state he didn’t lose: North Carolina (Levy, 2019).

Interested in hearing Lady Bird Johnson’s speech in Durham? The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library has made the audio recording available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fyDOFkmGg8

 

Citations

Hersch, J., & Shinall, J. B. (2014). Fifty Years Later: The Legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2523481

Hindley, M. (2013, May/June). Lady Bird Special. Humanities, the Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, 34(3). https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2013/mayjune/feature/lady-bird-special

Lady Bird’s Whistle Stop: Durham, NC: 10/7/64, 7:04 AM, Sound Recordings of Lady Bird Johnson’s   Whistle Stop Campaign Tour, 10/6/1964-10/9/1965, Records of the White House Communications Agency, LBJ Presidential Library, viewed via YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fyDOFkmGg8

Levy, M. (2019, October 27). United States presidential election of 1964. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 6, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-1964

NewsHour, P. (2014, October 06). Remembering Lady Bird Johnson’s whistle-stop tour for civil rights. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/remembering-lady-bird-johnsons-whistle-stop-tour-civil-rights

Would You Buy a Comic Book from this Woman?

Post contributed by Sagan Thacker, recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Asheville BA in History. Read more in their senior thesis, “‘Something to Offend Everyone’: Situating Feminist Comics of the 1970s and ‘80s in the Second-Wave Feminist Movement,” forthcoming in the University of North Carolina at Asheville Journal of Undergraduate Research and available to read here.

“Would You Buy a Comic Book from This Woman?” by Barb Behm, in Amazon: A Feminist Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), February 1976. From the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals Collection, Box 1.

In January 2020, I traveled from Western North Carolina to the Sallie Bingham Center to study feminist newspapers in two of the Bingham Center’s incredible collections: the Women’s and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Movements (LGBT) Periodicals and Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals collections. I was looking for material about feminist underground comics of the 1970s and ‘80s—books such as Wimmen’s Comix and Tits and Clits. I wanted to determine what feminists of the time period thought about the comics, and whether they viewed them as serious literature or just mindless entertainment.

I soon found several articles that turned popular notions of comics on their heads. Most notable was a February 1976 article from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, newspaper Amazon: A Feminist Journal. Written by Barb Behm about the now obscure Pricella Pumps/Star Buckwheat Comic Book by Barba Kutzner (1976), the article cogently praised the book’s relatability and satire of American society and its metaphorical significance for all women. Behm touted Kutzner’s protagonist as both a character with which women could heartily identify and a way to break free from the oppressive system and celebrate non-normativity.

This source was instrumental in showing that feminist underground comics, far from being tangential and lowbrow parts of the second-wave feminist movement, were instead an important part of the intellectual discourse within feminism. By finding a critic who enthusiastically engaged with the work on a level beyond its perceived lowbrow status, it became clear that some feminists viewed comics as a valid and direct medium to write and engage with feminism on a level that would not be widespread until the zine revolution of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. This reframing of comics’ literary history deepens our understanding of second-wave feminism and gives a more nuanced portrait of its discursive diversity.

Cover by Barba Kutzner, Amazon: A Feminist Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), February 1976. From the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals Collection, Box 1.

 

Duke’s May Queen

Post contributed by Theodore D. Segal, guest contributor1

On September 26, 2020, Duke University announced that the Sociology-Psychology Building on its West Campus was renamed the Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke Building to recognize Reuben-Cooke’s role as one of the “First Five” Black undergraduates at Duke and her many contributions to the university. A fitting honor, this recognition recalls a different time at Duke, one when Reuben-Cooke’s election as the school’s first Black May Queen stirred controversy.

* * * * * * * * *

Although by 1967 a number of longstanding traditions at Duke had been set aside, the annual practice of crowning a “May Queen” endured. Selection of the “Queen” was a centerpiece of popular “May Day” celebrations, a holiday whose origins date back to the ancient world. Villagers throughout Europe would collect flowers and participate in games, pageants, and dances throughout the day. It became customary to crown a young woman “May Queen” to oversee the festivities. During the early 20th century, selection of a May Queen became common at women’s colleges in the United States and had acquired a special meaning in the South. “The crowning of the May Queen as the ritual incantation of Southern society’s ideal of femininity,” historian Christie Anne Farnham wrote, “was a traditional event at Southern female schools. . . . The queen was usually elected by the students on the basis of ‘sweetness’ and beauty,” Farnham explained, although the father’s status often played a role.

May Queen traditions at Duke dated back to 1921 when the school was still known as Trinity College. The Trinity Chronicle reported that 2000 spectators attended May Day festivities that first year, and that the two-day celebration was spent “in gaiety and amusement.” Undergraduate Martha Wiggins was crowned Queen of May that year. The school newspaper wrote that she, “wore a lovely costume of shimmering white, bearing a corsage of white roses with her golden hair cascading in waves down her back, making a charming picture of perfect grace and absolute loveliness.”

Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke poses at the Anderson Street entrance to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in 1967. She wears a cardigan and skirt, and the Duke Chapel is visible in the distance behind her.Given this context, it was newsworthy when Wilhelmina Reuben, a member of Duke’s first class of Black undergraduates, was selected as the Woman’s College May Queen in spring 1967. As runners up in the voting, white coeds Mary Earle and Jo Humphreys were designated to serve as Reuben’s “court.” The Associated Press picked up the news, reporting that “Mimi, as she is known to her friends, is a Negro—the first of her race to receive the honor at the women’s[sic] college of the university.” Chosen for her character, leadership, campus service, and beauty, Reuben had been selected May Queen by a vote of students in the woman’s college. A fact sheet on Reuben prepared by Mary Grace Wilson, dean of women, described her as “warm, friendly, perceptive and sensitive to the feelings of others.” Wilson called her “one of the most admired and highly respected students on the campus.” Reuben was a member of the freshman honor society and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior. A student intern at the State Department, she was listed in “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. For her part, Reuben was pleased by her selection. “I’m still trying to adjust to it,” she told the Associated Press. “I’ve been walking around in a delightful haze of disbelief and excitement.”

Many at Duke were pleased with the news. Randolph C. Harrison, Jr., an alumnus from Richmond, Virginia, wrote to Douglas Knight, Duke’s president, that the “undergraduates’ choice of Miss Reuben as May Queen attests once more to Duke’s greatness. What a step towards inter-racial accord.”

If Reuben’s election represented progress to some, however, the prospect of a Black May Queen flanked by two white members of her “court” felt like a violation of the established social order to others. Jonathan Kinney, president of the Duke student government, saw the reaction when he had the responsibility of “crowning” the queen and her court. “I kissed all the rest of the panel,” he recalled, “so I kissed [Wilhelmina Reuben]. There were a lot of boos in that stadium at that time.” An anonymous alumnus sent the Duke president pictures of the “pretty May Queens chosen at Peace, St. Mary’s, and Meredith Colleges,” all of whom were white, along with a picture of Reuben, “a colored girl who was chosen May Queen at our Dear Ole Duke University.” The alumnus noted the “deplorable contrast between the May Queens of other colleges and the stunning representative from Duke.” He told Knight “Duke Alumni everywhere were stunned and several in South Carolina had strokes.” One correspondent, identified as a “lifelong, respected citizen of Wilmington, North Carolina,” outlined with exasperation the problems that Reuben’s election was creating at the city’s annual Azalea Festival where May Queens from throughout North Carolina were invited to attend:

The Sprunt’s annual garden party at Orton [Plantation] for the college queens (held for the past 20 years) has been cancelled; the Coastguard Academy, which was supposed to furnish her escort, says they don’t have a colored boy available; the private home in which she was supposed to stay is not now available; and there are all sorts of complications.

“The crowd who elected her has done a disservice to her,” the writer opined, “and placed a no doubt nice girl in an embarrassing situation.”

Finally, two trustees weighed in. C. B. Houck told Knight that he liked and respected “the colored people” and wanted them to have “every opportunity that the white people have.” Still, he thought Reuben’s election was in “bad taste” and that the “East Campus girls were leaning over backwards to be nice.” For Houck, the symbolism was deeply troubling. “To select a colored person for May Queen and have white maids of honor flanking her on either side,” he concluded, “makes for poor and critical relationship [sic] among many people, particularly in the South.” Trustee George Ivey was also deeply concerned. Writing from Bangkok, Thailand, he called Reuben’s selection “very upsetting to me.” Even if the selection was by Duke’s coeds, Ivey regretted “that the University has attracted the type of students that would vote for a Negro girl as a ‘beauty’ to represent the student body. It is nauseating to contemplate.”

By spring 1967, Duke had eliminated most of the school’s de jure discriminatory policies and practices. Reuben’s election as May Queen could be seen as another positive sign of racial progress. But the episode also shined a spotlight on the depth of attachment some still had to traditional racist ideas. These attitudes would become even more pronounced in the months to come as Black student activism accelerated on campus.

1Ted Segal is a Duke graduate (A.B. 1977), retired lawyer, and a board member of the Center for Documentary Studies at the school.  His book, POINT OF RECKONING: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University, will be published by Duke University Press in February 2021. Special thanks to the Duke University Archives for preserving the historical records quoted in this piece and for making them readily accessible.

Oct. 7th ONLINE: Creativity and Mental Health

Date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Time: 4:30-5:30 PM
Register: http://bit.ly/rl-styron (Registration required to receive Zoom link)

Please join the staff of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library for a free ONLINE event on creativity and mental health.

This event recognizes the 30th anniversary publication of William Styron’s Darkness Visible, a memoir of his depression and recovery. Along with discussing Styron’s work, our panelists will speak to the role of creativity, writing, and mental health.

Talks will be provided by:

  • James L.W. West III, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University, author of William Styron: A Life (1998)
  • Sneha Mantri, M.D., M.S., neurologist and Director of the Trent Center’s Medical Humanities Program
  • Megha Gupta, M.D. Candidate, Duke University School of Medicine
  • Sarah Hodges, M.D. Candidate, Duke University School of Medicine

October 6: Readings and Conversation with Sallie Bingham

Date: Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Time: 4:00-5:00 p.m. ET
Online via zoom: Registration required to receive Zoom link.
Contact: Kelly Wooten, kelly.wooten@duke.edu or Laura Micham, laura.m@duke.edu

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture  is honored to host a virtual reading and discussion with Sallie Bingham, author of two new books: The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke and Treason: A Sallie Bingham Reader.

In The Silver Swan, Sallie Bingham chronicles one of the great underexplored lives of the twentieth century. Bingham is especially interested in dissecting the stereotypes that have defined Duke’s story while also confronting the disturbing questions related to her legacy. According to Gloria Steinem, “Sallie Bingham rescues Doris Duke from this gendered prison and shows us just how brave, rebellious, and creative this unique woman really was, and how her generosity benefits us to this day.”

Treason: A Sallie Bingham Reader is a collection that captures the spirit of the author’s illustrious writing career via short stories, a novella, and a play. From the complex stories of artistic influence and the exhilaration and fright of solitude, to the incendiary rage of a betrayed young wife who sacrifices everything for revenge, to the struggles for independence of the three women who surrounded Ezra Pound like subservient stars, these fictions seize the reader’s attention while slashing stereotypes.

The Rubenstein Library holds a range of collections documenting the lives of Sallie Bingham and Doris Duke.

Make 2020 (Duke) History!

We’re at home, in our houses, apartments, and dorm rooms. Or, when we venture onto campus, we learn, work, and relax while masked and six feet apart. But in spite of the (social) distance between us, we can still find ways to join together and be creative! 

The Duke University Archives invites our fellow Dukies, wherever you are, to recreate and reinterpret one of our historical Duke photographs. Recreated photos will be displayed online and in the library outside the Gothic Reading Room. You can also choose to add your photo to our growing Share Your COVID-19 Story collection!

How to participate:

  1. Choose from one of the #make2020dukehistory photos from our Flickr site and recreate it. (See guidelines below.)
  2. Send it to us via this submission form by Friday, October 23th at 11:59 PM.
Two side-by-side photos: At left: a ca. 1977 photo of caretaker Suzanne Lassiter holding a lemur at the Duke Primate Center, ca. 1977. At right: University Archivist Val Gillispie recreates the same photo with her cat, Barbecue Sauce.
At left: a ca. 1977 photo of caretaker Suzanne Lassiter holding a lemur at the Duke Primate Center, ca. 1977. At right: University Archivist Val Gillispie recreates the same photo with her cat, Barbecue Sauce.

Starting on Monday, November 2nd, all reinterpreted photos will be available for view on our Flickr site, on University Archives and Rubenstein Library social media, and in a slideshow outside the Gothic Reading Room at the Rubenstein Library. Duke Arts will also share the photos in its Duke Arts Weekly newsletter (sign up here!). And we’ll plan additional ways to share the photos across campus during the Spring 2021 semester.

One more thing: we want everyone in the Duke community to have comfortable and safe homes, particularly during this pandemic. Please also consider making a donation to Duke Mutual Aid or the Graduate & Professional Student Council Food Pantry to support those in our community who need it right now. (Donations are not required in order to submit a reinterpreted photo.) 

Participation Guidelines:

  • Give your interpretive powers full rein by matching your recreation to your current experiences and sentiments or aim for faithfulness to the original–bring your creativity to this in any way you choose!
  • Remember that the photos you submit will be publicly displayed. Here’s the Duke Community Standard for quick reference.
  • Submitted photos must adhere to masking, social distancing, and other safety requirements outlined in the Duke Compact.
  • Don’t like any of the photos in the #make2020dukehistory photo pool? No problem! Choose any photo from our Flickr site—but your photo recreation must still abide by social distancing and masking requirements.
  • Have fun and ask the University Archives if you have any questions about the historical photos you’re working with!

Looking Back, Moving Forward with Southerners on New Ground

Date: Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Online via Zoom: Registration required to receive Zoom link
Contact: Kelly Wooten, kelly.wooten@duke.edu or Laura Micham, laura.m@duke.edu

Please join the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture for a panel discussion grounded in the history of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) that will explore how activist archives inform intersectional struggles for social justice. Mandy Carter (SONG co-founder), Wesley Hogan (historian), Lisa Levenstein (historian), and Mab Segrest (SONG co-founder) will reflect on the importance and contemporary relevance of SONG’s organizing in the 1990s and beyond.

Wesley Hogan’s On the Freedom Side and Lisa Levenstein’s They Didn’t See Us Coming both incorporate research using the SONG Records and the papers of two SONG co-founders, Mandy Carter and Mab Segrest, from the Rubenstein Library.

Co-sponsored by the Duke Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and the Center for Documentary Studies.

OUCH! : Over a Century of Getting Vaccinated at Duke

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian.

You may have noticed (and we really hope that you have) that campus life is a bit different in Fall 2020. We’re all wearing masks, washing our hands, and obsessively monitoring our symptoms. We’ve also spent at least a few minutes speculating on the many unknowns—including the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine and how it might be distributed to the Duke community. The Duke Compact asks students, staff, and faculty to pledge to “Get the flu shot and other required vaccinations by designated deadlines.” And that made us wonder about the history of vaccinations at Duke.

You can learn a lot about Duke history from the Duke Chronicle and its predecessor, the Trinity Chronicle. Luckily for us, issues of the newspaper from 1905 to 2000 have been digitized by Duke University Libraries and can be fairly easily searched. Searching the newspaper reveals that campus-wide vaccination efforts are nothing new to Duke. Here are a few of the examples we found.

We’ll start by going way, way back to a time before Duke was called Duke. In 1914, during the Trinity College days, a vaccine against typhoid fever was offered to students, faculty, and their families. In addition to announcing the availability of the vaccine, the Trinity Chronicle published information on the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine as well as the number of deaths caused by typhoid in the state (about 1,200 each year). The article ends by noting that the administration “is anxious to see a large number of students avail themselves of the opportunity to obtain immunity from typhoid.”

The front page of the October 7, 1914 Trinity College. The headline to the relevant article reads "Typhoid Vaccine is Offered Trinity Men."
October 7, 1914 front page of the Trinity Chronicle with article discussing typhoid vaccine. Read article.

A little over a decade later, in 1928, students were asked to get a smallpox vaccine. The very short announcement suggests that vaccination is no big deal: “the nurse will give the vaccines in a few minutes, and it will all be over.” Although noting that there were no serious cases on campus, the article says that six students were confined and lists their names. (Reporting campus illnesses and including the names of the ill was a fairly common practice back then.)

Polio was perhaps one of the most troubling diseases in the mid-twentieth century and the widespread concern was justified. In 1948, the worst year for polio in North Carolina, 2,516 cases and 143 deaths were reported in the state. In October of 1950, a Duke undergraduate named Daniel Rathbun died after contracting polio and spending two weeks in an iron lung at Duke Hospital. When a polio vaccine became available in 1955, vaccination campaigns were held throughout the country. In October of 1956, the Duke Chronicle announced that student health would offer the vaccine to all under 45 years old. For students, the vaccine cost $3.00. The article discusses what is known about the relatively new vaccine, emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated, and notes that previously most college students were required to get vaccinated for typhoid fever (as if to say “why should this be any different?”).

October 12, 1956 Duke Chronicle article announcing polio vaccinations on campus. The headline reads "For All Under 45: Student Health Will Offer Polio Vaccine."
October 12, 1956 Duke Chronicle article announcing polio vaccinations on campus. Read article.

Efforts to vaccinate campus continued through the rest of the 20th century. In the mid-1970s, an outbreak of swine flu in the United States led to a nationwide vaccination drive. In November of 1976, Duke announced that it had 5,000 shots available to students and staff. In the 1980s, measles was a cause for concern on campus. In March 1985, the Chronicle published a large notice to let unvaccinated students know that “YOU NEED TO BE VACCINATED NOW.” A few years later in January 1989, a statewide outbreak spread to campus and Duke quickly “issued more stringent vaccination requirements” for both students and staff. Soon after Duke issued the new requirements, all unvaccinated students and staff were excluded from campus for two weeks. Staff were told to stay home. Students were barred from campus housing and had their Duke cards deactivated.

Notice published in the March 15, 1985 Duke Chronicle directing students to get the measles vaccine. The ad begins: "Attention Upperclassmen and Graduate Students: Help Keep Measles Off Duke Campus."
Notice published in the March 15, 1985 Duke Chronicle directing students to get the measles vaccine.

Concerns around meningitis in 1987 brought similar calls for large scale vaccination after a small number of students were infected. The Chronicle reported that mandatory vaccination was possible and, in March of 1987, thousands of students received a vaccine in a single day as part of the administration’s goal to distribute 6,000 doses.

Article on the front page of the March 6, 1987 Chronicle. The headline reads "Thousands receive shots to stop meningitis threat." A black-and-white photo of students waiting in line for the vaccinations accompanies the article.
Coverage of the 1987 meningitis vaccine effort of campus. Read article.

There are many other examples of vaccination efforts in Duke’s history—the campus-wide distribution of the annual flu vaccine is one we’re all familiar with and, in 1999, students were encouraged to get a hepatitis B vaccine with a hip Chronicle advertisement that said “Hepatitis B is a very uncool thing” and the vaccine will keep you from “turning an embarrassing shade of yellow.”

If you’re interested in exploring this history more, try searching digitized issues of the Duke Chronicle or get in touch with our helpful staff. And, while we have your attention, make sure to get your flu vaccine this year!

Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University