Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow

By Peter Vinten-Johansen; Howard Brody et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 13
Snow and the
Sanitarians

SNOW'S WORK AS A SCIENTIST and physician in the 1840s was concurrent with some significant formulations of sanitary theory. Edwin Chadwick's Inquiry into the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842) and two reports by the Parliamentary Commissions on the Health of Towns (1844 and 1845) proposed that the endemic and epidemic diseases ravaging the poor of Great Britain could be controlled only by government action. The ultimate results of the sanitary reform movement—publicly-financed water supplies and sewerage in cities, disposal of garbage, and a public health infrastructure— produced profound public health benefits, but not during Snow's lifetime.1 Later in the century, when the sanitary reform movement eventually adopted the insights from epidemiology that it had initially spurned, and also accepted the new bacteriology that it had been slow to acknowledge, great improvements in public health did take place. Sanitary reform would have borne fruit much sooner, however, had it linked disease to class distinctions, slum housing, and industrial exploitation of the working classes.2

Sanitarianism in Snow's time retained the humoral notion that health was the result of a harmonious relation between every body's unique internal components and the external environment. As such, the sanitary reform movement was based on a comprehensive view of the relationship of humans to their natural and social environments rather than a theory of fever causation.3 The immediate consequence of

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