With all the attention given to the recent measles outbreak and the controversy over vaccinating — or not vaccinating — Anne Farber was reminded of a letter she’d found among her mother’s possessions after her death in 2000.
Catherine Klees Hanscom apparently had written a letter to Jonas Salk in 1955, when the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, setting off a rush to vaccinate against the dreaded disease.
Hanscom lived in Emporuim at the time and, Farber said, was “petrified” with fear of polio. She said her mother was an avid reader and that she followed current events on radio and television.
She also wrote long letters to her children, her sisters and her mother. But Farber, of Harris Township, never knew about the letter she’d written to Salk, presumably thanking him for his work in developing the vaccine.
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“This is the first opportunity I have had to direct my attention from the demands of the work that needed to be done, and to go through all of the messages I received almost a year ago,” Salk said in a hand-written reply dated April 1956. “It is something that, for a long time, I have wanted to do.”
Salk’s letter was delivered in an envelope with a University of Pittsburgh stamp on it and a plea to buy season football tickets.
“It’s an amazing piece of history,” Farber said. And she’s still puzzled about why her mother never mentioned the letter, particularly given that Farber, who is now retired, has a professional background in pharmacy.
“With feelings deeper than this may convey, I send you many thanks for the inspiration you have added for the pursuit of the work we will go on doing.”
That’s how Salk ended his letter.
“I get a catch in my throat just reading that,” Farber said.