The United States of America: A Study of the American Commonwealth, Its Natural Resources, People, Industries, Manufactures, Commerce, and Its Work in Literature, Science, Education, and Self-Government - Vol. 2

By Nathaniel Southgate Shaler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII.
PUBLIC HYGIENE IN THE UNITED STATES.

THE popular estimate of the value of public sanitary measures in the United States has undergone a marked change within the past twenty years. A good illustration of the truth of this statement may be found in the following quotation from one of the foremost sanitarians in this country, published, in 1879, in the introduction to Dr. Buck's treatise on Hygiene and Public Health, vol. i:

"It may seem strange that public health should not receive more attention and consideration from politicians and legislative bodies than we actually find to be the case. A standing committee on public health would be about the last committee that either Congress or a State Legislature would think of organizing."

At the present day such committees form a part of the preliminary organizations of State Legislatures in the older States, and are also supplemented by other committees organized for the consideration of kindred questions, such as those of water supply and sewerage.

The reasons for this change of sentiment undoubtedly exist in the increasing density of the population, the demands of the people for pure air, food, and water, and freedom from the dangers of infectious diseases, and the free discussion of public sanitary measures by the daily press.

The foundation of progress in public hygiene in America may be said to have been laid when the early colonists enacted the following as one of the first statutes:

"Item: That there be records kept . . . of the days of every marriage, birth, and death of every person within this jurisdiction." ( Colony Laws, Massachusetts, chapter iii, 1639.)

The importance of such statutes in securing the correct data relating to vital statistics is everywhere acknowledged as a cardinal principle of public hygiene. Dr. Billings, in a paper communicated to the American Public Health Association, recognizes this principle in the following language:

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The United States of America: A Study of the American Commonwealth, Its Natural Resources, People, Industries, Manufactures, Commerce, and Its Work in Literature, Science, Education, and Self-Government - Vol. 2
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