As the oldest document in our Archive, Arnold Schönberg’s smallpox vaccination certificate is from the early summer of 1876. Issued in Vienna and regularly taken to different homes in Europe and the US, the certificate returned to Vienna with the composer’s Estate around 120 years after the vaccination took place.

Vienna, June 1876: Arnold Schönberg, 22 months old, resident at Theresiengasse 5 in Vienna’s 2nd district (now: Adambergergasse), is taken to the doctor’s office – possibly by his mother Pauline – at Untere Augartenstraße 3, which is about a 5-minute walk from his house. He is “vaccinated with protective pox substances” by Dr. Ferdinand Dietl. According to a document dated June 7, 1876, the young Arnold recovers “well” from “genuine protective pox”.

Dr. Dietl had already received commendation from the Lower Austrian governor’s office in 1873 as recognition of his “fervent activity” and his “fruitful work to promote vaccination against smallpox”, as reported on August 19, 1873 in the Wiener Zeitung. The use of cowpox (known as vaccination, from the Latin name for cow, vacca) that had been developed by the English rural physician Edward Jenner at the end of the 18th century, was tested in Lower Austria as early as 1799, and was implemented during the first mass vaccination in 1800.

In 1872, the war between Germany and France brought a smallpox epidemic to Vienna, and this led to intense discussions about mandatory vaccinations. The compulsory vaccination law in Germany, which came into effect in 1874 and specified that each child had to receive a smallpox vaccination before the second birthday, was not implemented in Austria. Associations with opponents of compulsory vaccinations, groups of doctors and lawyers who fought against the vaccination, and also the establishment of relevant journals in German-speaking regions, caused profound uncertainty throughout society. It was not until 1898 that smallpox vaccinations became mandatory for schoolchildren in Vienna. Arnold Schönberg’s parents Pauline and Samuel showed foresight by vaccinating their son 22 years earlier.