The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America

By Gerald N. Grob | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Expanding America,
Declining Health

In his novel Pierre, published in 1852, Herman Melville expressed a sharp dislike of the city. Pierre, the main character, had fortunately "been born and bred in the country," untouched "by the dirty unwashed face perpetually worn by the town." When Pierre arrived in New York, he found himself accidentally in a police station. The sights and sounds he encountered "filled him with inexpressible horror and fury…The thieves'-quarters, and all the brothels, Lock-andSin hospitals for incurables, and infirmaries and infernos of hell seemed to have made one combined sortie, and poured out upon earth through the vile vomitory of some unmentionable cellar." Melville's portrayal of the evil, dirty, and disease-ridden city stood in sharp contrast to his idealization of a healthful and bucolic countryside.1

The faith that rural life was superior to urban life was in part a reflection of demographics. For much of the nineteenth century the United States remained a predominantly rural nation. In 1800 no less than 94 percent of the nation's 5.3 million people lived in rural areas. The steady growth of urban areas during the first half of the century slowly redressed this imbalance; yet on the eve of the Civil War fully 80 percent of America's 31.4 million inhabitants still resided in rural regions.

Rural residents, moreover, enjoyed somewhat better health than their urban counterparts. Low population density tended to inhibit the dissemination of many infectious pathogens. Indeed, rural Americans generally had a better chance of surviving to adulthood without

-121-

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The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Prologue 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Pre-Columbians 7
  • Chapter 2 - New Diseases in the Americas 26
  • Chapter 3 - Colonics of Sickness 48
  • Chapter 4 - The Promise of Enlightened Health 70
  • Chapter 5 - Threats to Urban Health 96
  • Chapter 6 - Expanding America, Declining Health 121
  • Chapter 7 - Threats of Industry 153
  • Chapter 8 - Stopping the Spread of Infection 180
  • Chapter 9 - The Discovery of Chronic Illness 217
  • Chapter 10 - No Final Victory 243
  • Notes 277
  • Index 339
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