Sanitary advancement was astounding in the 1920s. Many discoveries were made in that decade, but others came from the 1800s and became accessible to the wide public only in the 1920s. They affected the lives of a large part of the Western World population, changing the habits and the expectations regarding the house and the personal state.
People became cleaner and enjoyed cleaner and healthier surroundings. More wholesome food became more readily available. Medicine made leaps in the cure of many common illnesses.
Before WWI, most of people thought that eating a lot was sensible, even necessary. They were aware that their unbalanced diet, heavy on calories and poor of vitamins, didn’t give them all the necessary nutritious and. But only when WWI created a shortage of food, everyday eating habits started to change. People needed to eat less but better. Their diet needed to be more varied.
After the war, improved food processing methods helped sharply increase the sale of canned fruits and vegetables, as well as condensed soup, beans with pork, sugar and tomato sauce. In 1925 Clarence Birdseye discovered how to quick-freeze fresh food in cellophane packages (itself a new product). In the 1910s new methods for large-scale pasteurization made milk (which had long been risky to drink), a popular drink, and not just for infants.
Already in the 1800s, scientific discoveries about the role of bacteria in causing illness had called for the development of urban sanitation systems and more through personal cleanliness. But it was only after WWI (and the further medical advances that the war caused) that cleanliness became a requirement of everyday life.Sanitary advancement was astounding in the 1920s . Discoveries made in that decade and others coming from the 1800s, changed attitudes towards clealiness #history Click To Tweet
In the 1800s and very early 1900s, hot baths were discouraged because though to be dangerous for the heath. Educationalist James Pope advised that frequent hot baths made the blood flow away from the heart and lungs. One hot bath a week sufficed for most people.
In the 1920s, the attitude toward cleanliness shifted significantly. Both body and clothes cleanliness became a standard requirement.
As the new house appliances became more available and economical, cleanliness in the house also became a requirement.
The 1920s were a time of passage in the field to medicine. While old beliefs and practices were still widely accepted and used, many discoveries advanced the understanding of many illnesses and their cures.
A few vaccines had been discovered in the previous decades, but it was only in the 1920s that they found practical use. In fact, throughout the decades, researchers found or advanced the cure for many diseases that previously had been potentially deadly such as tuberculosis, measles, scarlet fever, and syphilis.
The most influential of all was probably penicillin. A young French medical student, Ernest Duchesne, the first to discover the antibiotic effect of Penicillium glaucum in 1896, but the Institut Pasteur ignored his discovery. In 1928 Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming, rediscovered it, creating the penicillin, which would be the base to the cure many illnesses.
The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919
During the last stages of WWI, an outbreak of influenza swept the globe, killing people of every age and walk of life indiscriminately.
It was (and it is) called the Spanish Flu, but today historians think it unlikely that it really arose in Spain. Europe was at war, all borders were close, and the censure weighted on all media. But Spain was neutral, her news system freer, and so it was there that the first cases emerged.
In 2014, previously unknown records showed that the influenza probably emerged in China. Chinese labourers dug the trenches of WWI. The cramped, dirty, damp conditions in the trenches were optimal for the spread of the virus. Coupled with the weakened immune systems caused by malnourishment, it caused many soldiers to fall ill. Soldiers in the trenches knew it as ‘la grippe’), most got over it in about three days, if there weren’t other complications. But in the summer of 1918, several battalions went on leave and brought the undetected virus back home with them.
The virus found no barriers. It spread like wildfire from a country to another, until the entire globe was its victim. The number of dead was so high to overwhelm cemetaries and families had to dig graves for their relatives. Schools and other buildings became makeshift hospitals, where medical students took the place of the doctors still away at war. But the action of viruses was very little known at the time and even doctors didn’t know how to cure this influenza. Doctors recommended to avoid crowded places and to cover mouth and nose. But some suggested remedies such as eating cinnamon, drinking wine or even drinking Oxo’s meat drink (beef broth).
Although it is unclear when exactly the influenza broke out, March 1918 is the most accepted date. It was only in the spring of 1919 that it finally died out.
Today it’s difficult to say how many people it killed. The severer stages manifested like a form of pneumonia that killed in two days, so the documented cause of death might be different from influenza. Historians estimate a number between 25 and 50 million of deaths.
LiveScience – Spanish flu: The deadliest pandemic in history
Virus Stanford – The Influenza Pandemic of 1918
Encyclopedia Britannica – Influenza pandemic of 1918–19
Encyclopedia.com – The 1920s Medicine and Health: Overview
1920s-30s.com – Nobel Prize Winning Medical Discoveries
Terra – Bathing and personal hygiene
ReduceoMania – Origines of the Craze
Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002