Archives Month: Health Alert!! Polio Outbreak on UNC Campus! UNC-NC State Football Game Cancelled!

Here begins a series of posts celebrating SNCA's 2020 Archives Month theme of "20th Century Health and Medicine." This post was contributed by Dawne Lucas.

This post originally appeared on the “For the Record” blog of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Archives and Records Management Services, 26 October 2012.

The year was 1952 and the United States was still three years away from Jonas Salk becoming a household name.  At the time, polio was the scariest public health issue in the United States.  So when five UNC students, all athletes, were stricken with polio from mid-September to early October, it was no surprise that university officials took the necessary steps to prevent the disease from spreading further, cancelling the two home football games against North Carolina State and Georgia, and requesting that students remain on campus.

Daily Tar Heel scan
Cover of the Daily Tar Heel, Oct. 3, 1952.
Daily Tar Heel scan
Daily Tar Heel editorial page, Oct. 3, 1952.

Although the editor of the Daily Tar Heel said there was “no cause for alarm,” students were understandably concerned as were their parents.  Parking lots were nearly empty and the highways out of town were “dotted with hitchhikers” as students ignored the requests to stay on campus and went home.  Long distance telephone calls to and from Chapel Hill doubled as students and parents kept in touch with each other.

Daily Tar Heel scan
Cover of the Daily Tar Heel, Oct. 4, 1952.

The five students, football player Harold “Bull” Davidson,  cross country teammates John Robert Barden, Jr. and Richard Lee Bostain, swimmer Robert Nash “Pete” Higgins, and freshmen football player, Samuel S. Sanders, all recovered quickly and none suffered any paralysis.

Full issues of the Daily Tar Heel from 3 October 1952 and 4 October 1952 are available online via the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. For more information about the 1952 polio outbreak at UNC-Chapel Hill, listen to Chris Jensen’s 2015 Bullitt History of Medicine Club lecture, “And Polio Was a Nightmare”: Polio, UNC-Chapel Hill, And the North Carolina Memorial Hospital.”

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