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George Boole, saucy little Alice and an uneventful smallpox vaccination: one of the greatest stories never told
  1. C Anthony Ryan1,2,
  2. Des Mac Hale3,
  3. Yvonne Cohen3
  1. 1 Paediatrics and Child Health, University College Cork National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland
  2. 2 Neonatology, Cork University Maternity Hospital, Cork, Ireland
  3. 3 School of Mathematical Sciences, University College Cork National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Professor C Anthony Ryan, Paediatrics and Child Health, University College Cork National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland; tony.ryan{at}, tonyryan007{at}

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In the summer of 1955, the last and the largest polio epidemic in Western Europe, infecting as many as 50 000 children and adults,1 transpired in Cork, Ireland. It is recent enough to resonate in the living memory of the current generation of Irish grandparents, and is likely to be germane when the time to vaccinate their grandchildren arises. A hundred years earlier in the same city, smallpox was the infectious disease that struck fear into every parent's heart. Although smallpox could infect all age groups, like polio, younger children were more likely to become ill and die (at least 40% mortality), or survive with significant physical and emotional scarring.

In 1863, George Boole, foundation Professor of Mathematics at Queens College Cork, (now University College Cork) and discoverer of Boolean algebra, decided to vaccinate his third daughter, Alicia, known as Alice, against smallpox, which was then flourishing in the city. This vaccination story was uncovered in the Boole papers of the University College Cork Boole library in 2015, the 200th year anniversary of Boole's birth.

Boole came from humble beginnings; his father was a shoemaker in Lincoln, England. He was a child prodigy who went on to found the discipline of algebraic logic described in his book: The Laws of Thought (1854). Boole's wife, …

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  • Contributors CAR wrote the article and the research was carried out by DMacH and YC. All contributors reviewed the article.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.