Lessons For Ebola Crisis From Boston's 1721 Smallpox Epidemic

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As global health workers today fight to control an Ebola outbreak in west Africa, are there lessons from the Boston 1721 smallpox epidemic?

The outbreak centuries ago infected almost half of the city's 11,000 residents, killing more than 400 people in just one month.

But then an African slave shared a radical idea with his master — the prominent minister Cotton Mather — that would eventually lead to successful inoculations that brought the epidemic under control.


Ted Widmer is a historian at Brown University, a former speechwriter for President Clinton, and the co-author (with Caroline Kennedy) of Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy.


Boston Globe: How An African Slave Helped Boston Fight Smallpox

  • "Today, as anxiety leads many to see all of Africa as a potential source of infection, it may be time to revive a similar feeling of reciprocity—and an appreciation for what African medical knowledge meant to Boston during the most serious health crisis of its early history."

This segment aired on November 12, 2014.


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