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Column: Vaccinations weren’t so controversial in the 1950s
Johnny Vardeman

The news these days is dominated by the coronavirus, television newscasts showing needle after needle puncturing arm after arm.

Maybe if they’d back off showing that so many times, fewer people would be so squeamish about getting their shots.

Vaccinations for various ailments over the years haven’t been quite so controversial, perhaps because they didn’t become political issues. There always have been those for whatever reason stayed away from needles. However, many remember when the Salk vaccine provided hope to eradicate polio, and vaccination lines eagerly formed everywhere.

Vaccinations for a variety of diseases are required for school children, and doctors regularly encourage their patients to get booster shots for the plain old flu, pneumonia, shingles and other diseases.

A 1953 issue of the Gainesville High School student newspaper, the Trumpeter, reported Emma Harris of Hall County’s health department pushing needles through more than 600 students in about five hours. 

That was for typhoid fever. Coaches and teachers helped her herd the students through, and they immediately went back to class with few side effects, though some admitted nervousness beforehand.

There seemed to be little hesitancy, but more enthusiastic cooperation from the students.

Shirley Tolbert wrote in the Trumpeter: “Very few people have suffered from the after effects. The dreaded shots have come and gone, but there is still the memory of them, which makes one so nervous.”

1950s TV

The student paper polled students on their favorite television shows. “I Love Lucy,” “Jackie Gleason and “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” and “Dragnet” were the most popular. Others getting votes included “Your Hit Parade” and “Howdy Doody.”

Just to show how the issue of school consolidation in Hall and Gainesville has been around forever, the poll also asked how students and faculty felt. Most students and parents favored merging the two school systems. Some said more student resources would be available in larger schools. Opponents said smaller schools meant smaller classes, and eliminating them would hurt small communities where schools were built around them.

History notes

Nine counties border Hall. Their boundaries have changed over the years, sometimes affecting the county’s shape since it was formed from Jackson and Franklin counties in 1818. Gwinnett was formed in 1828. Habersham was the 43rd county formed in 1818, Forsyth was created in 1832, as was Lumpkin, made from parts of Hall, Cherokee and Habersham.

Dawson and White counties came about in 1857 and Banks in 1858.

The Cherokee Nation had populated most of those counties, more than 11,000 at one time, before white people ran them out on the Trail of Tears.

Patrick O’Connor was among the first settlers in Hall. His son, Patrick Jr., was one of the first postmasters.

The names of militia districts, some of which are still used as names of voting precincts, often originated from prominent people. 

For instance, Tom Bell on Clarks Bridge Road in Hall, was named for the longtime Ninth District congressman. Wilson’s apparently came from Cater Wilson, who operated a ferry over the Chattahoochee River. Candler came from Gov. A.D. Candler, who lived in Hall.

Quillians was named for W.H. Quillian, a farmer from a prominent family who operated a cotton gin. Quillians Corner at the intersection of Ga. 52 and U.S. 129 also came from the family who lived in that area near Clermont.

Whelchels was named for W.P. Whelchel, whose family was prominent in Hall business, political and civic activities.

The name of Fork District comes from the area where the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers intersect.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, His column publishes weekly.

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