The Public Health Movement

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The Public Health Movement

The rise of public health administration bears a good deal of resemblance to that of factory legislation. Again we find laisser-faire breaking down in practice on a specific point - this time the impossibility, to put it in a nutshell, of making everyone responsible for his own smoke, slops and sewage. Again we find theoretical opposition and short-sighted private interests joining hands to thwart reform. Again it is a sudden shock to public opinion, this time the cholera epidemics of 1831 and 1848, which puts an end to complacency and sets the wheels of progress going. And again, most particularly, we run up against the impossibility of reforming by law alone without adequate administrative backing.

Health in the Towns.

As always, a warning is needed before we consider the evils of life under the Industrial Revolution. If the towns were filthy in 1800, they were certainly no worse than they had been in earlier days. Medieval towns might be beautiful, but William Morris's dream of old London "small and white and clean" was a quite fantastic idealization. Undrained, unpaved, unlighted, overcrowded, and inhabited by people who ate, drank and wore a great deal too much, the old cities must have been more like a contemporary Oriental bazaar than anything else. By the .beginning of our period some improvement had already been accomplished, partly by personal hygiene and medicine, as we saw earlier, and partly by some rudimentary attempts at a decent water supply. But though he old towns had not deteriorated, at all events up to 1800 r so, their insanitary state was beginning to matter more and more to the nation as a whole, for a larger and larger proportion of the population were becoming town-dwellers.

Old towns, grew larger and more overcrowded, new towns replaced villages. People were pouring out of the country-, side, squeezed Out by enclosures and the loss of their by-industries; moreover they were multiplying enormously, for the birth-rate was high and the death-rate, in spite of everything, still falling. Semi-starvation and overwork, though they may cripple and stunt the victims, do not kill as disease kills. There was an enormous new demand for housing near the factories, and the new towns grew like mushrooms.


Next - The Importance Of Steam Power.

The Commission of 1862

In 1.862 the whole question was raised afresh, and a Commission was appointed. Twenty years had strengthened the hands of the reformers; they had precedent now, and better machinery for collecting evidence. The textile factories were more or less civilized by now, but in the hitherto unregulated industries such as the potteries, hardware, straw-plaiting, and match-making shocking stories of overwork, exploitation, or unnecessary and horrible industrial diseases came to light. From 1864 to 1878 a whole succession of Acts was passed; regulation spread first from the textile factories to the large workshops,... see: The Commission of 1862


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