Liberty had several polio scares in the 1940s and even proclaimed a state of emergency.  In 1954 Clay County was one of about 200 counties across the country chosen by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, funded by The March of Dimes, to participate in the validation of the effectiveness of the vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk.  Read how the town and key Rotarians made a positive impact on the community.
On August 28, 1943, Mayor Charles H. Sevier, Jr., of Liberty, Missouri, proclaimed a state of emergency in the city, fearing an outbreak of poliomyelitis.  Churches cancelled Sunday services, the Clay County Fall Products Show was postponed, and Liberty schools delayed opening until after the state of emergency was lifted on September 9.  Again in both 1946 and 1949 there were polio scares in Liberty so that on September 14, 1949, Dr. F. M. Waterman addressed the Rotary Club, explaining what medical science knew so far about Polio.  It was a topic of the highest priority for men with young children.
 

Clay County chosen to trial effectiveness of polio vaccine on Second Graders

In 1954 Clay County was one of about 200 counties across the country chosen by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, funded by The March of Dimes, to participate in the validation of the effectiveness of the vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk.  Its safety had already been established.  Now, what was needed was a large-enough sample to establish its effectiveness. In Clay County the proposal was to inoculate all the second-grade children whose parents would voluntarily allow them to take the shots.  The first and third-grade children would serve as the control group for purposes of comparison.  This undertaking in Liberty would require the cooperation of The Clay County Health Center, the members of the local medical society, the schools, and the newspapers, all organizations in which Rotarians were prominent. John C. McCartney, a charter member of the Liberty Rotary Club, was the first chairman of the board of The Clay County Health Center, which had been established in 1953 by a vote of the people, and whose first director, Dr. Henry M. Hardwicke, had worked hard to secure Clay County's participation in the test--one of only four counties in Missouri to participate. Two local physicians, Dr. Clyde M. Smith and Dr. Franklin M. Waterman, were, or had recently been, members of the Rotary Club, and another, Dr. James W. Willoughby, would join in 1958.  The physicians volunteered their services to give the injections.  Rotarian Raymond R. Brock was the superintendent of schools, and Rotarian Eugene L. Preston was the editor of the Advance and the Tribune.  The leadership these men showed in moving Liberty forward in the face of opposition was exemplary--and there was national opposition: Walter Winchell, the nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and radio commentator, had warned parents in one of his broadcasts that the Salk vaccine might be poisonous, and American Medical Association in its annual convention in the summer of 1954 passed a resolution criticizing the project for not having been discussed and approved beforehand in state and local medical associations.  In the face of this opposition Mr. Preston in both the Advance and the Tribune published supportive articles and editorials, including a detailed account of a meeting on April 12, 1954, at the Liberty elementary school, in which Dr. Hardwicke, Dr. Waterman, and Dr. Glenn Hendren strongly defended the vaccination program to over 300 parents.
 
When the first of the three scheduled inoculations was given on May 3, 1954, 740 of the 1136 second-graders in the county received it.  By April of 1955 the federal government had officially pronounced the vaccine both safe and effective and had licensed it for general use.  Whereas in 1952 there had been 57,879 cases of polio in the United States there were declining numbers every year after 1954   In 1961 the number of children contracting Polio in this country was 1,312.  Polio was on the way to being conquered, thanks to the foresight and leadership of a number of people like these Liberty Rotarians of the 1950s.
 
-J.E. Tanner from Wheel Within a Wheel...The RotaryClub & Liberty, 1935-2010