Ouch That Hurts! Immunizations

Ouch That Hurts! Immunizations
Hannah Van Buren: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Three class periods


Hannah Van Buren was fortunate among the 19th century First Ladies, in that she never had to go through the grief that comes with the death of a child.  Most families in the 18th and 19th centuries suffered the loss of at least one child, usually because of contagious diseases and infections such as measles, whooping cough, cholera, chicken pox, tetanus, etc. Even passing one’s first birthday was not a guarantee of life, as many children died before they were twelve. Mrs. Van Buren, did, however, die at an early age (35) of tuberculosis, also a contagious disease and one for which the mortality rate was very high.


The purpose of this lesson is to allow students to develop an appreciation of the role of immunizations on improved childhood health and reduction in infant mortality.  Many children know they get “shots,” but often they do not really understand the significance of their good fortune.  

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; use of the First Ladies Timeline; access to print reference materials about the lives of the First Ladies.


1.  Ask students for a show of hands of how many have had measles, mumps, chickenpox, rubella, scarlet fever, diphtheria, polio.  Note that the reason for the lack of a show of hands is because of inoculations and immunizations.  However, this was not the case for the 18th and 19th centuries.   

2.  Working with the First Ladies Curriculum Timeline, make a list of the Presidential children who died before their 12th birthday. To save some time, here is a list of dates: 1770, 1775, 1777, 1781, 1784, 1801, 1812, 1817, 1825, 1820, 1836, 1843, 1850, 1862, 1863, 1866, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1876, 1904, 1909, 1921, 1953, 1963.

3.  Research the cause of death of each child when it is available.   

4.  Divide the list of illnesses among the class, deciding whether students should work individually or in groups.  

5.  Have each student/group write a short report in which they discuss the disease, its general mortality rate (if possible), how the disease has been addressed in the modern period, and, if there is a vaccine, who developed it.

Extending the Lesson:

Students may look further into each of the common childhood contagious diseases to determine what the status of those diseases is today, and discuss if, and if so, why, that status has changed.

Sources & Resources:


Typhoid Fever


Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Scarlet Fever



Febrile Convusions


Immunization Timeline 


This lessons was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.