Materia Medica: Technology, Vaccination, and Antivivisection in Jazz Age Philadelphia


During the 1920s, the Philadelphia-based American Antivivisection Society turned to racialized metaphors in its circulating periodical, the Starry Cross, to excoriate the expanding practice of vaccination. Since vaccines were then made from animal-derived serums, the involvement of antivivisectionists in antivaccine arguments is not surprising. However, the Philadelphia society’s strange combination of vaccination, jazz, and vivisection reveals that its motivations to protect animals were deeply bound to broader cultural anxieties about the threat to purity posed by science, race, and sex, and that the stakes of succumbing to vaccination amounted to no less than medical miscegenation. By turning to racialized, speciesist arguments in asking for mercy toward animals against scientifically minded torture, the antivivisectionists’ use of the sound and image of the tortured animal was meant more to protect the human body and keep it white.