Daily Life in Victorian England

By Sally Mitchell | Go to book overview
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Health and Medicine


Life expectancy was much shorter in the nineteenth century than it is today. In England, rural people lived longer than city dwellers, and members of the upper classes were healthier than workers. Unlike many aspects of daily life, medical care made no dramatic advance during the century. Nutrition was poorly understood, and physicians had very few effective ways to treat illness. Epidemic diseases swept through crowded cities. Although the bacteria that caused some of them were identified by the century's end, it would be another forty years before cures were found.

Most people depended on traditional remedies, herbal medicine, homemade prescriptions, and the health advice passed along by household manuals and elderly women. Even in an aristocrat's country house, there was apt to be a servant--perhaps a laundress or one of the kitchen staff--whose medical knowledge was helpful not only for the other servants but also for members of the family. She made poultices for injuries and sore muscles, lanced boils, put herbs in boiling water to soothe coughs and croup. Her observation, experience, traditional herbal knowledge, and authoritative assurance were as useful as most therapies available to doctors.

Some people suspected that plentiful energy and a hearty appetite were not "ladylike," as women and older girls were expected to be delicate. It was widely assumed that members of the upper class could not digest the coarse food that working people ate. Furthermore, people in


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Daily Life in Victorian England


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