1910 Health Lecture Illustrates Just How Far We Have Progressed

Imagine attending a lecture in 1910 at the Hippodrome Opera House at W. Main and Whitney streets. The speaker is Dr. Alvin Davison of Lafayette College lecturing from his latest textbook, Health Lessons, Book 2, American Book Company. His address would likely go something like this: 

“Let me commence by presenting some sobering mortality figures from my book. Although Americans now live twice as long as their forefathers did, only two people out of 100 die of old age; the other 98 perish from disease or accidents. One-fourth of children born in this country die within 12 months and less than half of our population lives beyond 55 years of age. Fortunately, we can now identify the germs associated with such common deadly illnesses as typhoid fever, tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, diphtheria, grippe (influenza) and plague.

“However, our ongoing challenge is to prevent these often-lethal microorganisms from attacking and ravaging our bodies. Our delicate living machine can be seriously damaged and even destroyed by negligence. In 1885, just 25 years ago, polluted water was regularly supplied to our cities and towns from sewage-laced upstream sources. Today, this has essentially been corrected; most municipalities now furnish safe clean water. As individuals, we can improve our health by striving to augment the nutritional value of the meals we consume. This effort can have a bonus advantage of lowering our grocery bills.

“For instance, ten cents worth of corn meal furnishes as much nourishment as $2 worth of oysters. A dime spent for stewing beef or 12 cents for two quarts of milk will produce more food value than a one-pound 24-cent sirloin steak. The daily cost of feeding wholesome meals to a family of five need not exceed 75 cents. Healthful yet inexpensive choices include wheat bread, corn meal mush, beef stew, small dried beans, potatoes, oatmeal, milk and in-season fruits and green vegetables.

“Also, food should be chewed more than a dozen times before swallowing. Two thirds of a pound of properly chewed victuals offers the same dietary benefit as one pound of carelessly consumed fare. Dyspepsia (indigestion) is a common ailment caused by swallowing food before it has been crushed into very fine particles.

“Milk, an essential element of our diet, must be handled with extreme care. Bad milk is responsible for sickness and death of young children. More than twice as many people die from bacterial tainted milk as from old age. Milk of questionable quality should be pasteurized by heating it to just below the boiling temperature, stirring it frequently for 20 minutes and then cooling it rapidly with additional stirring. The product must then be consumed within 24 hours.

“On another subject, it is healthier to sleep at night with one bedroom window open at least a foot at the top and bottom. This insures adequate breathing of fresh air and should be done even in the coldest weather.

“In recent years, health sentinels have become quite commonplace is most cities and towns. Their job is to detect contagious diseases and isolate them from other households. It is imperative that we obey their directives. These guards have the authority to restrict people from having visitors or mandate compulsory detention, known as quarantines, inside their homes until the health threat has been eradicated.

“Let me conclude by addressing the health teachers in the audience. Imparting instruction that invites health and happiness will bless not only those of today, but generations yet unborn.”