I thought it would be an interesting look into our nation’s political cartoon history if, this month, I took a look at a different editorial cartoon each day that won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Do note that we’re talking basically 1922-1967 here, as since then, the Committee has almost always awarded cartoonists generally for their work, not for an exemplary single cartoon. So in many ways, this is a snapshot of American politics (for better or for worse) over a forty-five year period. Here is an archive of the cartoons featured thus far.
Today we look at Tom Little’s 1957 award-winning cartoon.
Tom Little (1898-1972) began working at The Tennessean (now known as The Nashville Tennessean) in 1918, while he was still in school. He stayed with the paper until his retirement in 1970 (he passed away two years later), over fifty years of service!
He began doing whatever was needed of him (police reporter, etc.) but he eventually worked his way into the paper as a cartoonist, both as a news/editorial cartoonist and also as the creator of the popular nationally syndicated comic strip, Sunflower Strip.
He drew Sunflower Strip for 15 years but actually ceased the strip in 1950 due to concerns from editors that his comic, which detailed the adventures of southern blacks, was seen as looking down upon his subjects, something Little took great issue with, but decided it better to stop the strip than to continue if that was how people were seeing it.
Little was a harsh caricaturist of politics, and he was quite an aggressive pursuer of issues that he felt needed to be brought to light, often in a very harsh, “take it to them” approach.
That’s why it’s interesting to note that the cartoon that won him the Pulitzer Prize was a bit more of a whimsical cartoon (although it, too, was a pointed cartoon at an issue that troubled Little).
People today are quite familiar with the notion of parents resisting immunizing/vaccinating their children, and that has been an issue for decades, and that is what Little decided to go after with his 1956 cartoon, depicting a child whose parents did not seek out the Polio vaccine that became available in 1955.
“Wonder Why My Parents Didn’t Give Me Salk Shots?”
Pretty harsh (I love the detail of the children playing).
However, while obviously Little, having actually, you know, LIVED through it, has a better perspective on the subject than I do fifty-odd years later, I find it interesting to note that if there were ever a vaccination where parental apathy was NOT really a problem, it was the polio vaccine.
Jonas Salk, who developed the vaccine, instantly became as famous as President Eisenhower. He was such a celebrity that even today, Jonas Salk’s name is well-known to almost all Americans. When the polio vaccine was released, DEMAND was the issue – there was not nearly enough supply to meet the demand for the vaccine, and in fact, a charitable foundation (now known as the March of Dimes) had to be formed just to allow the vaccines to be distributed in any sort of a reasonable manner.
If you were to pick a group that DID have less access to the vaccine, it would be the poor, who A. Had less organized access to the vaccine and B. Had less ability to pay for it.
Salk charged $2 a pop for the vaccine, and doctors normally just charged $3-5 for it, but some charged a helluva lot more. However, following a late 1950s outbreak of polio in the ghettos of a number of major American cities (although not the South, I do not believe), there was a movement to make the vaccine more affordable, probably about $10 today, adjusted for inflation.
So it’s interesting to see Little highlight parental apathy regarding the polio vaccine. Still, it’s a powerful cartoon against parental apathy PERIOD, and hell, what do I really know about the state of vaccinations in Tennessee in 1956? I can’t say that Little is wrong, really. I can say it is a great-looking cartoon.