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Sep 21

Kansas Health Concerns 100 Years Ago

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 2:29 PM by Bill Sowers

100 years ago as Americans marched off to the "War to End All Wars" public health agencies around the United States were also sounding the battle cry against other deadly enemies striking down men, women and children across the land. These enemies were communicable diseases, foodborne illness, unchecked pest populations and preventable accidents.

Among these government health departments was the Kansas State Board of Health.  Under the able leadership of Samuel Crumbine the Board used the most common media outlet available to it at the time, printed publications, and set about educating the public on health and safety..

Monthly bulletins issued by the Board reported on illnesses, healthy living habits, prevention of accidents at home, school and work, proper preparation/storage of food, health statistics, control of pests, child care, dental health and many other topics that affected day-to-day life.  Special booklets were also issued on important topics with more detailed information.

These publications were not dry, boring treatises. Rather they were newsy and informative... sort of the public health "infomercials" of their day.  They were at times blunt and painfully descriptive in showing the effects of a disease.  They also preached a constant sermon of cleanliness  over squalor and prescribed the moral conduct of the day.  At the same time they displayed a bit of whimsy with poetry, quips, quotes and stories. Here's a short sample:

Winter lays its garments by:
Here we come, the Spring and I.
Let me introduce myself:
Gentlemen, the Fly!

Busy agent of our firm,
Ready for the summer term;
Let me introduce my pal
Gentlemen, the Germ!

Let us enter, if you please;
We'll deliver, at our ease,
Our supreme commodity
Gentlemen, Disease!"
(From January, 1917 Bulletin of the State Board of Health)

So what were the major diseases of 1917 in Kansas featured with special numbers of the Bulletin?  The special bulletins of that year are concerned with these topics:  Whooping Cough (January 1917), Typhoid Fever (January 1917), Measles (March 1917), Smallpox (March 1917), Scarlet Fever (April 1917), Whooping Cough (August 1917), Laws on Control of Communicable Diseases (August 1917),  Diphtheria (September 1917) as well as a booklet on "Conservation of Child Life" (December 1917)

You can view the 1917 Bulletins of the Kansas State Board of Health online at the State Library of Kansas' KGI Online Library here:

Kansas State Board of Health - Bulletins - 1917