Chippewa Valley Museum preserves history of vaccinations and disease

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Vaccinations, quarantines and social distancing are nothing new.

The archives at the Chippewa Valley Museum contain memories of pandemics and epidemics of the past.

“Since our country first began we have had issues with disease and vaccinations,” said Diana Peterson, curator at the museum.

Artifacts include quarantine notices, vaccine syringes for tuberculosis, vaccine passports and cards for diseases like polio and smallpox.

Newspaper articles are reminiscent of the same news the nation has seen since COVID-19 first made its way to the U.S. One article from 1937 announces Bloomer High School would close and a football game would be canceled after a teenager got polio.

“You really don’t know if you are reading old headlines or new headlines,” Peterson said. “There are headlines about the new vaccines being a political issue coming up in the elections, headlines about people being apathetic and please protect our children and get your vaccination. There are some about once the vaccinations started and people started being less careful and were getting sick.”

Old photographs show a polio vaccine clinic, similar to the mass vaccination clinics held recently for COVID-19.

“Polio was devastating to our community. A lot of people here had after effects. You’ll see a lot of prosthetics in our collection, people having to use crutches,” Peterson said.

The museum also showcases the evolution of health sciences with a magneto electric machine and memories of the iron lung.

The artifacts also hold lessons for today’s generation.

“It is something that we can see how vaccinations have developed and how we learn in every new epidemic, we are building on what we learned in the past so we are making it better,” Peterson said.

The Chippewa Valley is collecting artifacts from the COVID-19 pandemic so future generations can learn from how it was handled.

“I hope they learn from us. I hope they feel like they know us a little better,” Peterson said. “We realize there is not much on the 1918 epidemic and we would love to see that and how people responded so if we can record that for other people that would be a great gift to future generations.”

Anyone who has artifacts reminiscent of the COVID-19 pandemic is invited to contact the museum at (715) 834-7871 or send an email to

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