A mother's responsibility: women, medicine, and the rise of contemporary vaccine skepticism in the United States

Bull Hist Med. Fall 2013;87(3):407-35. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2013.0047.


Federal efforts to expand childhood immunization coverage in the United States in the 1970s relied heavily on the cooperation of mothers and were concurrent with a major social movement of the past century: the women's movement. This article examines popular and scientific immunization rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s through a feminist lens, to demonstrate how changing ideas about the social and economic roles of women in this period shaped, on the one hand, official vaccination recommendations and, on the other, women's acceptance of vaccines recommended for their children. Notably, the feminist and women's health movements changed the way women related to and perceived doctors, medical advice, and scientific expertise, with important implications for how some women perceived vaccines and their attendant risks. The influence of feminist ideas on the vaccine doubts that took shape in this period reveal the complexity of the ideologies informing the rise of contemporary vaccine skepticism.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Feminism
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Social Change
  • United States
  • Vaccination / history*
  • Vaccination / psychology
  • Women / psychology*