The Ultimate Blog, Margaret Pratt, and polio
last; furthest or farthest; ending a process or series:
the ultimate point in a journey; the ultimate style in hats.
So this is the end of the road for my blog, at least for now. The statistics on readership are embarrassing and humbling. With less frequent postings on my part, the number of viewers has dropped. With diminishing numbers of readers, the incentive to continue drops proportionally. Hence, I conclude that I can find more productive uses of my time doing other things. The original intent was to stimulate interest in our 60th reunion in 2014 by recalling memories from the years at Jeff. The hope was to stimulate interest and an exchange of comments between classmates, but that hope did not did not yield much in the way of results. Hence, this is the ultimate blog. Thanks to those who did persevere and who commented from time to time.
This final blog includes an obituary for another classmate, memories of the polio scare in 1946, and a little unfinished business, if you read to the end.
Obituary for Margaret M Pratt
May 26, 1936 – September 16, 2016
Austin, Texas | Age 80
Born May 26, 1936 at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, TX. Died September 16, 2016 in Austin, TX.
Margaret graduated from Jefferson High School in San Antonio, TX. She had a Bachelor of Arts from TX State College for Women and a Masters of Science in Math from San Jose State College, San Jose, CA. She was an artist, a writer and a spiritual mentor to many. She also was brilliant in the computer field. Margaret was internationally recognized for her knowledge and insight into the workings of Information Technology.
Margaret was preceded in death by her parents Robert Barton Pratt and Elizabeth Kimball Pratt and her brother Robert Barton Pratt, Jr. She is survived by her sister Elizabeth Pratt Beecroft and brother-in-law Bert E Beecroft, Corpus Christi, TX; her niece Mary Beecroft; nephews Sam Beecroft and Tom Beecroft; and many great-nieces and nephews.
There will be a graveside service on Tuesday, September 20th at 10:30 am at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery.
Margaret was loved by many for her special beauty and grace and will be missed by all.
In the recent blogs, I have been posting the professions, occupations, and/or careers of our classmates, gleaned from extracting bits and pieces of information gathered over the years. Once again, I had hoped people would comment. Only Mike Gill did.
Inoculations and Polio
The San Antonio District Attorney recently posted a video declaring a direct relationship between the measles vaccine and a cause of autism in children. He quoted medical studies from some years back that have apparently discredited. Farther past, I recall reading that more and more parents are opting out of childhood inoculations prior to the school year. It is worrisome that these options are being exercised by educated parents., for it calls to mind the polio epidemic from 1946 and the great relief when Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine in 1953. The excerpts which follow are taken from the Express-News files.
Remembering when…In the summer of 1946, all swimming pools in San Antonio were closed and young people were prohibited from attending any public gatherings at churches, schools or theaters. Officials sprayed insecticides throughout the city in an earnest effort to wipe out pests.
Polio was sweeping through San Antonio, stoking the public’s fears. It wasn’t the first time the illness had sickened people here, but it was by far the city’s most serious outbreak yet.
Between May and mid-July that year, 85 polio cases were diagnosed in San Antonio and the surrounding areas, and 11 of those patients died, according to a broadcast on local radio station KABC that summer by the city’s health board chairman, Dr. Pat Ireland Nixon.
While tuberculosis would prove to be far more deadly, people were terrified of polio nonetheless because of its potential to kill, paralyze or maim its victims. Nobody knew in those days how polio was spread, but public suspicion focused — incorrectly, as it turned out — on insects such as flies and mosquitoes. Today it is known that polio spreads by person-to-person contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Young children were particularly susceptible. And polio cases most often surfaced in May and the summer months.
The illness, first known as infantile paralysis, “was very dangerous, and it was such a mystery,” said medical historian Heather Green Wooten, author of the 2009 book, “The Polio Years in Texas: Battling a Terrifying Unknown.”
“During the height of the epidemic, they would start closing swimming pools and children’s camps, sometimes schools or theaters, all kinds of things,” Wooten said recently. “Anywhere where they thought people would be gathering, they would do that.”
Among the San Antonio children sickened by the virus in 1946 was Linda Brown Fannin. She was only 18 months old when she became sick with polio while attending a family funeral in Oklahoma. Her parents took her back to San Antonio, believing she would get the best care possible at Robert B. Green Hospital’s polio ward. She spent six weeks there, although she doesn’t remember any of it.
“You had to be quarantined,” recalled Fannin, now 70 and still living in San Antonio. “I couldn’t see my parents. Every night, after Daddy got off from work, they’d go and try and see me or be there at the hospital. And there was this one really nice nurse that would bring me out behind the glass so they could see.”
There was no polio vaccine at the time. A breakthrough was still years away. People could only hope that they and their children would not catch the virus — and if they did, that the effects would not be permanent.
The most feared outcome, paralytic polio, would occur if the virus broke through a victim’s digestive tract, entered the bloodstream and attacked the central nervous system, which would cause temporary or permanent paralysis. Others might suffer less-severe symptoms, such as weakness in one limb or mild, temporary symptoms of discomfort. Fannin, for instance, suffered no permanent paralysis, but wore a small brace on her leg from the time she was in first grade until she was in sixth grade.
San Antonio’s first severe polio outbreak occurred in 1942 when the virus sickened more than 75 victims in the Alamo City, according to Wooten’s book. San Antonio’s military bases played a significant role that year in training the U.S. armed forces for World War II. Health officials soon discovered that personnel on San Antonio’s military bases and residents in nearby homes appeared more vulnerable to polio.
“Many victims of the San Antonio epidemic were soldiers and city residents living in or near the local military bases,” Wooten reported in her book. “… In order to properly treat the continual stream of polio patients, an emergency polio ward was quickly established at Brooke General Hospital at Fort Sam Houston.”
That vulnerability was likely related to society’s increasing mobility due to the war, Wooten said.
“Everyone is moving around,” Wooten said. “They’re coming from a lot of rural communities, the small towns, where you might not have had the disease. And so you had much less immunity. And here you are coming to Houston or San Antonio or Dallas or these big military bases or war industries — and you’re mixing it up with a lot of people who are infected even if it’s mild. And then all of the sudden, you’ve got these epidemics.”
The virus continued to sweep across Texas and the rest of the country, resurging in San Antonio with a vengeance in 1946. Nixon, in his writings, partly blamed poor sewer systems in San Antonio, noting that raw sewage backed up into many of the city’s streets during heavy rains. An intensive insecticide spraying campaign got underway, targeting streets, city buses and houses, the San Antonio Evening News reported.
“It was striking somewhere in the state every year — at least somewhere big,” Wooten said. “There was absolutely no rhyme or reason …. And that was what was so terrifying — you never knew from year to year, would your community be next? It just leapfrogged.”
Around this time, local musical performer Red River Dave, whose real name was David McEnery, took to the airwaves of WOAI to perform “The Polio Song” — a tune he had composed.
“Attention, everybody, here’s some things you ought to know,” he sang. “I’ll pass along some good advice on fighting PO-LI-O. Eliminate the housefly and mosquito mighty quick. Remember insects carry that old bug that makes you sick.”
The number of polio cases surged again in San Antonio in 1949, when the city’s health director reported 166 cases and 17 deaths, according to an article published in the San Antonio Express. A final surge swept through San Antonio in 1952, when 152 cases and 11 deaths were reported.
The latter year was particularly bad for Texas and the rest of the country, Wooten noted in her book. “It was just a terrible year nationwide,” she said. “And why — again, no one knows why.”
The March of Dimes spearheaded polio-prevention campaigns that used young polio victims’ images on posters to raise public awareness of the illness. Fannin was chosen as the March of Dimes poster child in 1949 when she was 4. She traveled to the White House and met with President Harry Truman twice.
Truman “was just kind of entertaining us and having a photo opp,” Fannin recalled, noting that she and the president shared a birthday cake when their first meeting occurred on her 4th birthday. “I kicked my boots off when I was sitting with the president. (The media) made a really big deal about that. But I wasn’t probably used to really wearing boots. And they dressed me up like a Texan.”
Fannin also met with U.S. Speaker of the House and fellow Texan Sam Rayburn that year. An iconic photo — for which Fannin perched on Rayburn’s desk, wearing her boots — captured the meeting for posterity.
The first hope of eradicating polio arrived on the market in 1955 when Dr. Jonas Salk introduced the first polio vaccine. The injection was made available after undergoing field trials in multiple cities, including San Antonio.
After the Salk vaccine was distributed, the number of polio cases in San Antonio plummeted quickly. In 1956, a total of 96 polio cases and four deaths were reported. By 1957, those figures declined to a 10-year low with 42 polio cases and two deaths reported, according to the San Antonio Express.
Dr. Albert Sabin followed up with the first oral vaccine for polio in 1962.
Thanks to the San Antonio Express-News.