The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Letters of Thanks

While processing some Sabin material to add to the current finding aid, we came across an interesting box. In 2004, the Winkler Center received a large box full of letters that Dr. Sabin received while he was in the hospital. These letters, and many more, poured into Dr. Sabin’s address at the National Institutes of Health because of an article written by Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene titled, “Rx: Don’t forget Sabin on Sunday.” I wanted to share a bit about this column, as well as some letters found in that box.

When the column was published in December of 1983, Dr. Sabin had been suffering from “ascending paralysis” for a couple of months and was in the hospital. Describing both Drs. Salk and Sabin as “genuine heroes,” he noted that in 1983 both men could pass through any public area without being noticed. Polio, the “most dreaded of all childhood diseases,” was no longer feared, but those who helped to eradicate the disease were virtually unknown.[1]

Because of this, Greene urged people to send get well cards to Dr. Sabin. He wrote, “So it might mean something to [Dr. Sabin] if the mail brought some good wishes – and some overdue expressions of thanks – from people he never met, but who perhaps owe their own good health to what he did.”[2]

Two years later, Greene met Dr. and Mrs. Sabin at an event. According to the conversation he had with Dr. Sabin, over 100,000 letters of thanks were sent to Dr. Sabin while he was in the hospital in 1983.[3] These letters came from all over the country, and many included a copy of the column Greene had written. Dr. and Mrs. Sabin were overwhelmed by the outpouring of appreciation.

After Dr. Sabin passed away in 1993, Greene recalled the story about the 100,000 letters. Dr. Sabin had said to him, “”To read those letters, I can’t even tell you the feeling it gives me. It makes me feel that what I did was somehow worthwhile. You always have a feeling of doubting whether what you have done with your life is truly worthwhile. … People forget. But these letters… as long as I live, these letters will give me a feeling of warmth.”[4]

Although the Winkler Center does not have all of the 100,000 letters Greene mentioned in his 1985 column, we do have a significant amount, including the two shown here in the blog. If you are interested in seeing some of the letters Dr. Sabin received because of Greene’s December 1983 Chicago Tribune column, please contact the Winkler Center at chhp@uc.edu.

References
[1] Bob Greene, “Rx: Don’t forget Sabin on Sunday,” Chicago Tribune 4 December 1983, page A1.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bob Greene, “Dr. Sabin’s recovery Proves Heroes Win,” Chicago Tribune 8 April 1985, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-04-08/features/8501200261_1_oral-polio-vaccine-dr-albert-sabin-post-polio. Accessed 6 November 2012.
[4] Bob Greene, “Dr. Sabin, We Didn’t Forget,” Chicago Tribune 7 March 1993, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-03-07/features/9303188296_1_dr-albert-sabin-dr-salk-oral-vaccine. Accessed 6 November 2012.

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $314,258 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize the correspondence and photographs of Dr. Albert B. Sabin. This digitization project has been designated a NEH “We the People” project, an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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