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black history month, history , vaccines
Image ownership: public domain

A 1776 book about the eradication of smallpox in New England.

The early colonists of Boston were terrified—and nearly wiped out—by a rapidly spreading virus. As our modern society panics over incoming COVID-19 variants, I’m sure you can imagine the climate.

But instead of being taken by the deadly disease, Boston took part in a bold new experiment. As a result, smallpox was stopped in its tracks.

And it was thanks to the brilliant idea of an enslaved man, who really should be a household name for his contribution, one that remains a foundational principle in modern medicine.


Though an ancient affliction (as in, even the Egyptians knew about it), smallpox didn’t appear in the Western Hemisphere until 1507. But when it did, it killed an estimated 2 million among the native population alone.

Smallpox incited fever, fatigue, a nightmare-ish rash and worst of all, it was extremely contagious. The once-prosperous town of Boston had residents fleeing to avoid possible exposure.

smallpox, black history month, vaccine history

Smallpox under the microscope.

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But fate was changed in 1721, when a man named Onesimus shared how he once had smallpox. And that he overcame it.

Onesimus was a slave to Puritan minister Cotton Mather (major player in the Salem witch trials, swell guy), and was given his name from another enslaved man in the Bible whose name meant “useful.” Mather also referred to Onesimus as “wicked,” but something tells me Mather liked to dish out that descriptor a lot. And moreover, Onesimus proved to be indeed quite useful.

Onesimus told Mather the story of how he, too, contracted smallpox in Africa but “had undergone an operation, which had given him something of the smallpox and would forever preserve him from it...and whoever had the courage to use it was forever free of the fear of contagion.”

That operation would later be widely known as variolation, where a healthy person could make a small cut in their skin, then insert infectious material (in this case, pus from smallpox blisters) into the cut. You’re welcome for the visual.

Not being entirely trusting—shocker—Mather decided to research further. Lo and behold, this method had not only been used in Africa, but China and Turkey as well.

Wisdom did not beat racism so easily. Even Mather was accused of “Negroish thinking” while trying to promote the idea. Not to mention that, ironically, the very religion Mather idolized proved to be an obstacle, as other preachers claimed the practice to be “against God’s will.”

That tune changed after more than 14% of Boston's population was decimated, and one physician showed his support. Zabdiel Boylston inoculated his son, and the slaves in his possession, and the results were impossible to ignore: of the 24 people inoculated, only six died.

history of medicine, black heroes

1802: a comparison of smallpox (left) and 16 days after being administered with cowpox (right)

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Without Onesimus introducing this form of disease prevention, we very likely might still be facing smallpox today … if we survived, that is. The success of variolation planted the seed for new hope, and not much later, a vaccine based on cowpox would be developed.

Not much is known about what happened to Onesimus, other than partially purchasing his freedom from Mather. But we owe him a debt of recognition. This is a valuable story not only for the power of science, but for the amazing insight to be gained by respecting other cultures.

Education

Teacher of the year explains why he's leaving district in unforgettable 3-minute speech

"I'm leaving in hopes that I can regain the ability to do the job that I love."

Lee Allen

For all of our disagreements in modern American life, there are at least a few things most of us can agree on. One of those is the need for reform in public education. We don't all agree on the solutions but many of the challenges are undeniable: retaining great teachers, reducing classroom size and updating the focus of student curriculums to reflect the ever-changing needs of a globalized workforce.

And while parents, politicians and activists debate those remedies, one voice is all-too-often ignored: that of teachers themselves.

This is why a short video testimony from a teacher in the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County went viral recently. After all, it's hard to deny the points made by someone who was just named teacher of the year and used the occasion to announce why he will be leaving the very school district that just honored him with that distinction.

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Joy

Tea time: how this boutique blends cultures from around the world

Ethically sourced, modern clothes for kids that embrace adventure, inspire connections and global thinking.

The Tea Collection combines philanthropic efforts with a deep rooted sense of multiculturalism into each of their designs so that kids can grow up with global sensibilities. They make clothes built to last with practicality and adventure in mind. But why "Tea"?

Let's spill it. Tea is a drink shared around the world with people from all different cultures. It is a common thread that weaves the world together. The Tea Collection was born from a love of travel and a love of sharing tea with different people in different places. Inspired by patterns from around the world, these clothes help children develop a familiarity with global communities.

Tea sources their materials ethically and ensures that each of their partners abide to strict codes of conduct. They have a zero-tolerance policy for anything "even slightly questionable" and make sure that they regularly visit their manufacturing partners to ensure that they're supporting positive working conditions.

Since 2003, The Tea Collection has partnered with the Global Fund for Children and has invested in different grassroots organizations that create community empowered programs to uplift kids in need. They donate 10% of their proceeds and have already contributed over $500,000 to different organizations such as: The Homeless Prenatal Program (San Francisco, CA, USA), Door of Faith Orphanage (Baja California, Mexico), Little Sisters Fund (Nepal) and others in Peru, Sri Lanka, India, Italy and Haiti.

But the best part about the Tea Collection? They're also an official member of the Kidizen Rewear Collective, which believes that clothes should stretch far beyond one child's use. They have their own external site for their preloved clothes that makes rewearing affordable. Families can trade in gently used Tea clothes and receive discounts for future products. Shopping the site helps keep clothes out of land fills and reduces the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

By creating heirloom style clothing made to last families can buy, sell, and trade clothes that can be reworn again and again. Because "new to you" doesn't always have to mean never been worn. And let's be honest, we all know how fast kids grow! Shopping preloved clothes is a great way to keep styles fresh without harming the environment or feeling guilty about not getting the most out of certain styles.

But don't just take our word for it! Head over to the Tea Collection and see for yourself!

Upworthy has earned revenue through a partnership and/or may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

Hold on, Frankie! Mama's coming!

How do you explain motherhood in a nutshell? Thanks to Cait Oakley, who stopped a preying bald eagle from capturing her pet goose as she breastfed her daughter, we have it summed up in one gloriously hilarious TikTok.

The now viral video shows the family’s pet goose, Frankie, frantically squawking as it gets dragged off the porch by a bald eagle—likely another mom taking care of her own kiddos.

Wearing nothing but her husband’s boxers while holding on to her newborn, Willow, Oakley dashes out of the house and successfully comes to Frankie's rescue while yelling “hey, hey hey!”

The video’s caption revealed that the Oakleys had already lost three chickens due to hungry birds of prey, so nothing was going to stop “Mama bear” from protecting “sweet Frankie.” Not even a breastfeeding session.

Oakley told TODAY Parents, “It was just a split second reaction ...There was nowhere to put Willow down at that point.” Sometimes being a mom means feeding your child and saving your pet all at the same time.

As for how she feels about running around topless in her underwear on camera, Oakley declared, “I could have been naked and I’m like, ‘whatever, I’m feeding my baby.’”

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