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March 22, 2007

Pulitzer Prize-winning author visits ISU

Dr. David Oshinsky speaks about polio’s place in U.S. history

TERRE HAUTE — Growing up in the late 1940s in New York, David Oshinsky is old enough to remember how scary polio used to be.

“Every summer, polio would come like the plague,” he said. “ … Everybody was at risk and that meant that you couldn’t go swimming in swimming pools, you couldn’t go to the movies, you couldn’t be in crowds, you couldn’t make new friends. Everybody was always really worried that polio was going to strike them.”

Oshinsky, a professor of American history at University of Texas at Austin, spoke to about 50 people Thursday afternoon in Indiana State University’s Cunningham Memorial Library. He spoke about his book, “Polio: An American Story,” which won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for a distinguished book on the history of the United States.

Co-sponsored by the library and Blumberg Center, Oshinsky’s presentation was one of the events for Disability Awareness Month.

Poliomyelitis, known as polio, enters through the mouth and is very contagious. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea. In some cases, paralysis occurs, or death.

One of the biggest things Oshinsky said he learned from writing this book was how the March of Dimes organization revolutionized philanthropies and medical research.

When it came to fundraising, March of Dime officials figured out that small donations from a lot of people were better than big donations from a few people. In this way, more people get involved.

“No one is too poor to give a dime to help a kid walk again,” Oshinsky said.

The March of Dimes also was the first organization to use poster children and celebrity endorsements.

Organizations today mirror many things the March of Dimes started, such as walks for a cause.

On the anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, the organization would host the “Mothers March on Polio.” Oshinsky remembered walking door to door with his mother to collect donations to fight polio.

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