Nov. 19, 2019

The Samuel X Radbill Lecture: In Vaccination We Trust


The Samuel X Radbill Lecture in collaboration with the Section on Medical History presents:

In Vaccination We Trust: Fear, Freedom and Immunization in U.S. History

The American public’s vaccination fears and opposition are as old as vaccination itself. This talk will explain how and why public attitudes toward vaccination, especially compulsory vaccination, have changed over time. 

Many age-old vaccination objections—including those grounded in religious beliefs, secular values, political ideology, and distrust in powerful interest groups—have been with us for more than two hundred years. But the modern era of vaccination, which dates to the 1960s, is also unique for the emphasis we have placed on compulsory vaccination of children, the visibility of so-called anti-vaccine views, and the often-overlooked but historically unprecedented acceptance of mandatory vaccination of our youngest citizens. Contemporary trust in vaccines and vaccination is best understood in the context of the modern family, economy, health care, federal politics, and American ideas about rights and freedoms. Contemporary distrust in vaccination is best understood in context of the very same factors, as well as our changing social values, environmental concerns, gender roles, valuation of children, corporate power, and our shift toward a society in which secular values are often as strongly held as religious ones long have been.

Program promptly begins at 6:30pm. Join us for light refreshments after the lecture created by Catering By Design.

The Mütter Museum will not be open during this event.


Elena Conis is a professor in the Graduate School of Journalism and the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at the University of California, Berkeley, where she also directs the joint graduate program in Journalism and Public Health. A former journalist, award-winning columnist, and historian, she studies how culture, values, politics, and media have shaped modern American medicine, public health, and environmentalism over time, and how scientific ideas about health and medicine are communicated to and received by the public in the present. Her book Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization received the 2015 Arthur J. Viseltear Award from the American Public Health Association. Her research has been supported by grants and awards from the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Science History Institute, UCLA's Charles Donald O'Malley Research Fellowship, and Emory University, where she was previously a Mellon Foundation Faculty Fellow in Health and the Humanities and a faculty member in the Department of History.


Samuel X Radbill, MD (1901 - 1987) was a pediatrician, bibliophile and medical historian whose life and practice centered in Philadelphia. A graduate of South Philadelphia High School and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he interned at Lancaster General Hospital before his residency at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition to practice out of his home, he was on the pediatric staff at Philadelphia General Hospital and helped found and run free, local pediatric clinics in the city. When elected a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1943, he was already an avid collector of bookplates and medical texts, promoting the study of medical history through exhibits and activities with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Association for the History of Medicine. Dr. Radbill participated actively in the College’s Section on Medical History, serving at different times as Clerk and as Chair. He was a member of the Council and Bicentennial Committee and a longtime member of the Library Committee, concerned with the direction of Library development. His medical history and bookplate collections were later donated to the College, and the Radbill Lectureship was established to honor his memory and enthusiastic advocacy for medical history.

The event is co-sponsored by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The Section on Medical History and the Samuel X Radbill Endowment.

-Tickets are transferable to other people, but are not refundable

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ASL interpretation is available for any event upon request. Please contact Meredith Sellers to place a request for an ASL interpreter or for any other accessibility accommodations.

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The Mütter Museum helps the public appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body while understanding the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.

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