The Original Anti-Vaxxer

The Original Anti-Vaxxer (WNYC Studios)

About this episode

In 1902, a Swedish-American pastor named Henning Jacobson refused to get the smallpox vaccine. This launched a chain of events leading to two landmark Supreme Court cases, in which the Court considered the balancing act between individual liberty over our bodies and the collective good.

A version of this story originally ran on The Experiment on March 21, 2021.

Voices in the episode include:

• Rev. Robin Lutjohann — pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts

• Michael Willrich — Brandeis University history professor

• Wendy Parmet — Northeastern University School of Law professor

Learn more:

• 1905: Jacobson v. Massachusetts

• 1927: Buck v. Bell

• 2022: National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration

• 2022: Biden v. Missouri

• "Pox: An American History" by Michael Willrich

• "Constitutional Contagion: COVID, the Courts, and Public Health" by Wendy Parmet


Music by Ob (“Wold”), Parish Council (“Leaving the TV on at Night,” “Museum Weather,” “P Lachaise”), Alecs Pierce (“Harbour Music, Parts I & II”), Laundry (“Lawn Feeling”), water feature (“richard iii (duke of gloucester)”), Keyboard (“Mu”), and naran ratan (“Forevertime Journeys”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Dieterich Buxtehude (“Prelude and Fugue in D Major”), Johannes Brahms (“Quintet for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello in B Minor”), and Andrew Eric Halford and Aidan Mark Laverty (“Edge of a Dream”). 

Shadow dockets, term limits, amicus briefs — what puzzles you about the Supreme Court? What stories are you curious about? We want to answer your questions in our next season. Click here to leave us a voice memo.

Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project by Justia and the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.

Support for More Perfect is provided in part by The Smart Family Fund.

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