'Do Something!... Do Anything!'


By Christopher James Rutty

Ph.D. Thesis
Department of History
University of Toronto
Professor Michael Bliss, Supervisor
Defended April 1995

© 1995 Christopher J. Rutty

Photocopies of this Thesis (452 pp.) are available (double-sided cirlox bound) for $45.00, postage included, from the address below.


Poliomyelitis Incidence in Canada, 1927-1962
From C.J. Rutty, "Do Something! Do Anything! Poliomyelitis is Canada, 1927-1962 (Ph.D. Thesis, Department of History, University of Toronto, 1995), Figure 1

Iron Lungs, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, 1937

Iron Lungs, Hospital for Sick Children
Toronto, 1937. Photo: Hospital for Sick Children Archives, 972.3.63a

Salk Vaccine, Connaught Medical Research Laboratories, Toronto

Poliomyelitis Vaccine (Salk), Connaught Medical Research Laboratories, University of Toronto, 1959. Photo: Aventis Pasteur Limited Archives, Acc0282


Beginning in 1927 and climaxing in 1953, epidemic poliomyelitis became one of Canada's most prominent public health challenges. Each "polio season" paralytic polio struck suddenly and capriciously, leaving in its wake devastating and life-long physical disabilities. As epidemics worsened, their frightening public image and high personal, social and political costs generated an escalating response from provincial governments which established new precedents in the provision of free medical and hospitalization services in Canada. Moreover, the polio threat forced new levels of federal intervention and financing, including the imposition of national standards and control in the management of polio vaccines between 1955 and 1962.

This dissertation explores the factors underlying such government involvement, especially the unique nature and personal experience of polio, its frightening imagery, the press' role in its management, and -- within a context of high public expectations for protection -- the profound medical, public health and scientific frustrations associated with its understanding, diagnosis, prevention, control, treatment and after- care. Of primary significance was polio's visibility, unpredictability and variability . Moreover, its primary target was young children, especially middle class children. Growing numbers of adult cases and the high costs of its short and long-term management to families, institutions and governments compounded polio's dramatic impact, especially during the post-war "baby boom."

Expanding government intervention was the most distinctive feature separating the Canadian polio experience from the American's, although its evolution had important American influences. In particular, the conjunction of American enthusiasm for a series of hopeful polio "weapons" with major Canadian epidemics had a direct impact on the growth of provincial polio services. The most powerful force on governments and voluntary efforts north of the border was the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis ("March of Dimes"), with its unprecedented publicity, fundraising, patient care and polio research efforts. There were, however, important influences from north to south. Financed by American dimes, and by significant Canadian funding, comprehensive polio research efforts at Connaught Medical Research Laboratories at the University of Toronto proved critical to the development and unprecedented American trial of the Salk vaccine, and the ultimate control of this disease. 



Chapter 1: Medical, Political and Popular Background to 1927

Chapter 2: The First Wave, 1927-1932: Provincial Polio Epidemics and Convalescent Serum Chapter 3: The Second Wave, 1935-1940: Science, Technology and Government Polio Treatment Chapter 4: The Third Wave, 1941-1946: Provincial Polio Policies and the Sister Kenny Revolution Chapter 5: Polio Volunteers and the State, 1945-1952: The Canadian Foundation for Poliomyelitis and the Politics of the "March of Dimes" Chapter 6: The Fourth Wave, 1947-1953: Summers of Fear, Desperate Hopes and the Federal Politics of Polio Chapter 7: "Hopeful Science:" Connaught Laboratories, American Dimes, Canadian Science and the Making of a Polio Vaccine,1947-1953 Chapter 8: "An Unusual Effort:" Canada and the Salk Vaccine Story, 1953-1955 Epilogue: From Salk to Sabin, 1955-1962

Conclusions: The Meaning, Lessons and Legacy of Polio in Canada

Appendix: Figure and Tables

Bibliographic Essay


Biographical Sketch

Christopher J. Rutty, Ph.D.
96 Durie Street.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M6S 3E9