Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by two variants of a virus—variola major and variola minor. Since smallpox was certified as eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1979, it has managed to make its way back into the news. Vaccination has become a hot button topic among parents. As a nation, free from epidemics and pandemics, we have become suspicious—sometimes with the perceived risks of vaccination outweighing the advantages. Without a large-scale and successful vaccination program, however, smallpox would still be claiming lives. During the 20th century alone, an estimated 300-500 million people worldwide were victims of this deadly disease.
Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the concerns about using lethal viruses, like smallpox, as weapons of bioterrorism have become all too real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traveled to New Mexico and the College of Santa Fe’s Fogelson Library in 2004 and the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond in 2010 to remove and study smallpox scabs found in their collections. Smallpox scabs could contain the live virus. In these cases, the virus was no longer live but the scraps of DNA found allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of the evolutionary history of the smallpox virus. Under President George W. Bush’s administration, a new policy to make the vaccine available to every American was instituted. As the scientific community … read more »
R.D. (Robert Davidson) Hufford was born in Wythe County in 1850. He studied medicine at the Medical College of Virginia and established a practice in Smyth County. In 1891, he moved to Tazewell County where he practiced until his death in 1898. Following Hufford’s death, all of his estate papers and account books were exhibits in a chancery cause heard in Tazewell County Circuit Court. Titled Foote and Johnson and others versus Administrator of R.D. Hufford and others (Tazewell County Chancery Cause 1903-043), the purpose of the suit was to settle Hufford’s estate. The estate papers and account books remained at the courthouse following the resolution of the suit. One of the ledgers eventually made its way to the Library of Virginia as part of a records transfer in the 1970s.
I came across Doctor Hufford’s account book while cataloguing the business records of Tazewell County. Looking through the pages, most entries contained scant information, e.g. “to visit … $4” or “to Rx … $1”. There were a few entries that provided some detail on the services Hufford provided. They included treatment for fevers, amputation of limbs, removal of teeth, and numerous pregnancies. And there was the odd entry such as using electricity to treat the wife of a patient and setting the leg of a horse that, for a nineteenth century doctor, perhaps … read more »