Medicine through time - some information on public health from the 19th century onwards

HideShow resource information

Public Health

Edwin Chadwick

In the 1830s a civil servant called Edwin Chadwick was asked to report on living conditions and the health of the poor. His report concluded that much poverty was due to ill health caused by the foul conditions in which people lived. He believed that it made sense for ratepayers to pay for public health improvements such as drainage, which would actually cut the cost of paying for sickness and death. His report was published in 1842.

The 1848 Public Health Act

Following Chadwick’s report, the government did nothing. Then in 1848, faced with another outbreak of cholera, Parliament reluctantly passed the 1848 Public Health Act.

This set up a system, run by the government’s Board of Health, to encourage (but not force) local authorities to improve conditions in their local areas. The Act allowed local authorities to make improvements if they wanted to and if they had the support of the ratepayers. But only a few local authorities took any new measures. By 1872 only 50 councils had appointed Medical Officers of health, although this had been one of Chadwick’s main proposals.

Six years later the government’s Board of Health was disbanded.

The 1875 Public Health Act

This finally forced local authorities to provide clean water, proper drainage and sewers, and to appoint Medical Officers of Health. The Act laid down all the duties expected of a local council in terms of public health.

Why was public health finally improved?

1.Scientific developments – Pasteur’s germ theory finally proved the link between dirt and disease

2.The weakening of laissez-faire – the government realised it was in everyone’s interest to clean up towns

3.New voters – in 1867 working-class men had been given the vote, this meant that MPs were more likely to listen to working class people

4.Cholera – cholera came back in 1865, the work of Snow and Pasteur convinced the government that there was a link between disease and dirty water

5.Statistics – from 1837 the government collected details of births, marriages and deaths, William Farr used this to compile an accurate picture of where the death rate was the highest and proved a link between unhealthy living conditions and disease.

6.Education – in 1870 the government made every local authority set up schools.

Charles Booth

Charles Booth investigated poverty in the East End of London. His results were published in the book ‘Life and Labour of the People of London’ in 1889.

His research claimed that 35% of people in the East End were living in poverty. Between 1891 and 1903 Booth published more volumes of ‘Life and

Labour of the People of London’ in which he argued that the government should take responsibility for people living in poverty. He proposed


leah richards


this is great !

really helpful


Thegirlwhoknewtoomuch - Team GR


This is fantastic thanks.

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Medicine through time (OCR History A) resources »