U.S. National Institutes of Health

Rubella Mothers as Moral Pioneers

Description: This module has four classes in which students explore how the 1964 rubella epidemic reshaped cultural expectations about the “ideal” American family. Each 50 to 90-minute class includes a short introduction, closely aligned primary and secondary sources, and discussion questions. Information about the author of the module, suggested uses, and academic objectives is available online at the About the Module.

Class 1: Modern Motherhood

The first class introduces students to the changing role of medical and childrearing experts in parenting decisions during the early and mid-20th century. Students discuss how beliefs about the “ideal” family changed over time and how ideas about health shaped those beliefs.

Class 2: Disability in the Debate about Rubella

The second class focuses on the ways that popular culture, especially lifestyle magazines and television, represented children with disabilities as a result of maternal rubella exposure.

Class 3: Rubella families as “moral pioneers”

The third class explores how the families of children with congenital rubella syndrome reshaped the legal landscape by demanding access to therapeutic abortions as well as better medical, educational, and financial support for children with disabilities.

Class 4: From rubella to Zika

The fourth and last class compares and contrasts the 1964 rubella epidemic to the 2016 Zika crisis in the United States and around the world.