Dr. Rodermund
Dangers of smallpox/Case mortality

 See: Infectiousness of smallpox   Dangers of smallpox/Case mortality


On Monday, Jan. 21, 1901, about 11.30 A. M., I entered the residence of Mr.___ , where Miss Stark was confined with the smallpox.

As I entered the house Mr.__ jumped from his chair and said: "We are not allowed to let anyone enter this house."

"Never mind' I said, "I am not anybody, so perhaps you have made no mistake."

I then stated that I came to see the smallpox patient.

"There she is," he said, pointing towards a young woman, in a far corner of the room. Mrs___ sat by the window sewing, while a child about two years old ran about the room.

"Are you not afraid of taking smallpox from the girl?" I asked.

"No," replied the mother, "we are not afraid."

"But the doctors say this disease is very contagious; are they not very careless and negligent in not keeping this patient away from the rest of the family?  This is a genuine case of smallpox, just see the large pustules full of pus. Of course I know you can't take the disease from another."

Then to show them that this was true, I broke open several of the large pustules on her face and arms and took the pus out of them and smeared it all over my face, hands, beard and clothes, and at the same time remarked that I would now go home to dinner.

I mentioned nothing of the affair to my family during the meal and went directly to my office without telling anyone. The first person who came in the office was an old friend, Rev. T., who has a parish at North Milwaukee. We shook hands heartily ; in fact, I had entirely forgotten that I was covered with smallpox poison. I presented him with one of my books and, according to our scientific and wilful deceivers of the public, I must have covered the book and gentleman with smallpox germs, and he in return must have exposed many people in Appleton, those he met on the train, and finally his whole congregation. The germs on the book, I suppose, are still enjoying themselves in the spiritual home of the reverend gentleman.

During the same afternoon I touched the faces of several persons in my office while treating their eyes and fitting glasses. From 4 to 6 and from 8 to 10 o'clock the same afternoon I was at the Business Men's Club, where I mingled and played cards with the members.

In the evening the conversation drifted to the smallpox case I had visited in the morning. After discussing the subject for a while, one of them asked me if I would visit a smallpox patient and then go home to my family. I quietly remarked that I would just as soon do it as visit a patient with a common cold.

Finally, Mr. Dickinson, cashier in one of our banks, remarked rather sarcastically: "Now, doctor, what's the use of talking such nonsense, you would no more think of visiting a smallpox patient and then go home and sleep with your family than you would go home and shoot one of your children. You are too sensible for that."

The reader can imagine the state of my mind at that time, as none of them had an inkling that I was at that very time covered with smallpox pus, and that the cards we were playing with were being loaded with this poison. Still, I never once mentioned my visit to them. Further, I would never have gone to the club-rooms if I had had the least idea that my actions would ever be known, as I knew the sentiment of these gentlemen and I also had too much respect for them and myself, to impose upon their feelings, even if I did know that their belief was a foolish superstition. I have done similar acts dozens of times during the past fifteen years and have in each instance watched the results and not the slightest harm has ever been done to anyone.

To return to our subject, after leaving the club-rooms that evening I went home, slept with my family, and the next morning took the train to Green Bay, without washing my hands or face, and wearing the same clothes. I took breakfast at Green Bay and then went to the store of Mr. M__ , who had engaged me to fit glasses for his customers on that day. I handled the faces of twenty-seven persons during the day, besides those I exposed on the streets and in the train when on my way home.

The next morning (Wednesday) I washed my hands and face, the first time since they had been smeared with pus 46 1/2 hours before. When I arrived at my office I found several reporters waiting to ascertain if the report were true that I had visited the smallpox patient and had smeared myself with pus. In the beginning I neither affirmed nor denied the accusation, because I did not want it known, but upon inquiry I learned that one of the neighbors had seen me come out of the house and asked the health officer if the family had changed doctors, as she had seen Dr. Rodermund come out of the house on Monday.

Consequently there was nothing for me to do save tell the exact truth, which I did. The newspapers, however, mixed untruth with the truth in such a way as to mislead the public. Among other things they stated that I had personally bragged of what I had done, when they knew that I never intended it to become known to the world until the people were ready to consider such revolutionary truths for their own benefit.

I was allowed my freedom about the city all day Wednesday, but on Thursday, the fourth day, I was quarantined and a guard of policemen stationed around the house. The people had been so aroused by the health officer, doctors, city officials, and the newspapers, that one of the policemen told me that it was a good thing I was protected by a strong guard, otherwise my life was in danger.

Saturday I broke quarantine in spite of five policemen, drove forty miles to Waupaca, took the train for Chicago, from there went to Terre Haute, Ind., and on my way back home was arrested in Milwaukee and held for four days in the pest house. This is a brief outline of the whole episode which created such a sensation.

The sanctimonious frauds and deceivers of the public (doctors) tried in every way, shape and manner, to trace a case of smallpox to my actions, but with no avail. Even after I had exposed 50,000 people, and rubbed my pus-covered hands over thirty-seven faces, they could find nothing against me. In the near future I will publish a few similar incidents which have happened to me the past years, and which are far more interesting than this one.

Why is not one out of the thousands of these medical scoundrels, murderers, and deceivers, ever turned up to win the prize which reads as follows:
One thousand dollars will be given to anyone who can prove that disease is contagious; also ten dollars for each day it takes him to prove it.

The doctors know that by superstition the people can best be held. Then, I want to ask you, are not the people more to blame than the doctors ?

More than half the public do not believe in contagion, but they lack the courage to say so. Discussion and argument will never change the present conditions. They never settle a question where a powerful body of men have law and money of their side. A powerful public sentiment, combined with true knowledge, is the only remedy. As long as you drowse in your old superstitions, these murderers will continue to ruin your constitutions for the money there is in it.

Does any sane man believe that God created such laws which, if disobeyed at any time by one person, would spread a loathsome disease over a whole nation? This superstition is a blasphemy upon Almighty justice. Dr. Rodermund in The Searchlight 1901


"I am with you in your opposition to Compulsory Vaccination.  My logical
faculty was offended at it long ago.  At best it was simply boring one hole
to stop another, and now it seems not even to do that, if men die of small
pox after vaccination.
You do me justice when you count me on the side of liberty, and opposed to
every species of arbitrary power.  I am for the largest liberty of thought
and conduct this side of crime.  I am no more in favor of such power when
wielded by a majority than when by an individual."

Letter to Professor J. Dossons, MD, Washington DC, Dec. 28, 1989