Thankful Thursday: Ed McMurray’s Whooping Cough Party

"Whooping Cough Party" from left: John Warburton, Dick Barquest, Mary Lou Harvey, Mary Warburton, Bob H[arvey?], Edward A. McMurray
“Whooping Cough Party” from left: John Warburton, Dick Barquest, Mary Lou Harvey, Mary Warburton, Bob H[arvey?], Edward A. McMurray

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a dangerous disease that has taken the lives of many  infants and children throughout the years. Adults can get it as well- often from their children.

The initial symptoms of this highly contagious bacterial respiratory disease are often mild and may be misdiagnosed. Also called the “100-day cough”, pertussis then causes violent coughing fits that may cause fainting, hemorrhage, rib fracture, brain injury, and even death, especially in young infants. Making it hard to breathe, the coughing occurs in clusters of 5-10 coughs and then a ‘whoop’ as the patient breathes in. Typically this stage lasts six weeks but often continues ten weeks or longer; the whooping may last for some time even after the person has recovered from pertussis.

There is no real treatment for whooping cough- antibiotics are sometimes given to reduce how infectious the person is (that period may last 5 weeks or more) and possibly reduce side effects of the disease. Vaccination is currently the only way to reduce the risk of acquiring pertussis, and the immunity fades over time, requiring vaccination throughout the years.

There had been an average of over 175,000 cases of whooping cough reported per year in the US before a vaccine was available in the 1940s. The incidence decreased to only about 1,000 cases per year until 1976, when cases again began to rise. In the US, in 2012 there were more cases reported than since 1955; in 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a 30% increase in cases. (Keep in mind that many cases go unreported, so actual numbers are probably higher.)

1939 Whooping Cough Party. The Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida.
1939 Whooping Cough Party. The Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Back at the turn of the twentieth century and into the 1930s, whooping cough epidemics scoured our nation. Schools would be closed because such a large number of children were absent due to the cough, and there were many deaths. Epidemics would occur every 2-5 years.

Imagine a large family of children, maybe a newborn and children aged 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12,14, and all of them coming down with whooping cough, one at a time, each at a different stage of the illness…   The disease may last 100 days, so an entire year or more might be spent with a family dealing with whooping cough, and the very youngest might not survive. The ‘whooping’ children would get bored and be distraught that they could not enjoy their birthday or other happy event. So parents invented “Whooping Cough Parties” to entertain the sick children- only those infected or who had already had the cough were invited. Parents as well as children were thankful for a respite from being sick.

New Zealand also dealt with whooping cough as an epidemic, as did countries around the world: Whooping Cough Party in Bay of Plenty Times. A creosote mixture was a part of the meal as a relish, and prizes were given for those who could whoop the longest and loudest; a booby prize was given to those who whooped the least.

There was even a mention of a whooping cough party in both the The American Journal of Clinical Medicine and The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal!

Back to the picture above- there are two sets of siblings in the picture, which shows how infectious the disease was. The photo was taken probably about 1930 in Newton, Iowa, at 609 South Sixth Street. Ed McMurray and Johnny Warburton were best friends, and they lived across the street from each other. Ed stated that his mother planned the party since so many were sick. This may have been an April birthday party, or a party just to keep those poor coughing kids occupied.


None of the information in this post should be considered medical information or advice- please consult a doctor if you want more information or think you or a loved one may have whooping cough.

Pertussis is the only disease with increasing occurrences today that has a vaccine available. Sadly, the increasing number of persons who are not vaccinating their children or getting them booster shots increases the risk for all of acquiring this sometimes fatal disease. At least 90% of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks, and in some areas of the US, 75% of the parents are NOT vaccinating their kids, thus there is no “herd immunity.” (Measles and polio are coming back as well because of so many not vaccinating.)

I have seen queries online about having a “Whooping Cough Party” to infect one’s child to develop the immunity- that is NOT what these parties were years ago, and it can be very dangerous to hold these ‘parties’. In the early 1900s, the parties were for children who were actually sick. Since some of the children may have attended while still infectious, some states enacted laws against these gatherings:

Whooping Cough Party Hostess is Arrested. 21 Dec 1911, San Francisco Call.
Whooping Cough Party Hostess is Arrested. 21 Dec 1911, San Francisco Call.

So please don’t hold a “Whooping Cough Party”- it is very risky and we don’t want to lose any of those cute little timeless faces like in the above picture to such a horrible, preventable disease.


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) “Whooping Cough Party is Success for 25 Children” accessed 10/13/14 at

2) See also an 1899 article from Australia about whooping cough, in which a sick child had 27 of her friends with the same illness:

3) New Zealand Whooping Cough Party article:

4) CDC information about pertussis and current outbreaks:

5) Creosote compounds were used for their antibacterial properties that helped with respiratory illnesses, and given frequently for tuberculosis. Guaifenesin, currently used in Mucinex and other medications, is a synthetic modification of these compounds. See Wikipedia article:

6) Pertussis article:




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