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The National Association for the Promotion of Social Science: Its Contribution to Victorian Health Reform, 1857–1886*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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Extract

The campaign for better public health was a major social issue in England during the second half of the nineteenth century. As in the case of Poor Law and factory reform, Edwin Chadwick stands as the person who directed public interest toward the need for sanitary reform. He did this through his association with the Poor Law Commission in the late 1830s, then through his seminal and widely read 1842 Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population. Chadwick's report captured the minds of many in the British upper middle class. The Health of Towns Association, founded in 1844, helped to diffuse information on the “physical and moral evils that result from the present defective sewerage, drainage, supply of water, air, and light. …” Although the sanitary reformers had made some minor gains by 1847, they had failed to produce a satisfactory bill that would allow government some role in coordinating sanitary improvement. At this point, neither Chadwick, nor any other leading proponent of sanitary legislation wanted to put full authority in the hands of the central government, but they did desire a more efficient combination of local and national control.

The sanitary reformers, and particularly Chadwick, achieved a measure of success in 1848 when the Public Health Bill received parliamentary approval. It was hoped the Act would bring about a useful consolidation of responsibility for drainage, sewerage, water supply, and road maintenance. Instead, the legislation spurred a furious debate over how much national government interference was acceptable. It did little to improve public health because the argument over government interference for a time took attention away from critical issues of sanitation reform. Although never completely overcome, the argument over principles faded in the 1850s in the face of an urgent need for reform.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1985

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Footnotes

*

The author gratefully acknowledges travel grants from the American Philosophical Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota that made research possible in England. He also acknowledges the helpful comments made by R. Vladimir Steffel of the Ohio State University, Marion, when the paper was in its early stages.

References

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3 The 1848 Act was quite similar to the New Poor Law of 1834 in that it combined central authority with local authority in the administration of public health measures. Sanitary administration was assigned to local units of government. See discussions in Lubenow, , Politics of Government Growth, pp. 7284Google Scholar; Lambert, , Sir John Simon, pp. 7074Google Scholar; Roach, , Social Reform in England, pp. 142146.Google Scholar

4 Lambert, , Sir John Simon, p. 299Google Scholar. In his biography of Simon, Lambert refers to the organization as “one of the more notable pressure groups of the day” (p. 299). This is not an opinion shared by the majority of those who have discussed the Association in print.

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6 G.W. Hastings to Lord Brougham, May 2, 1857, Brougham Papers, University College, London (UCL), 13088; Hastings to Brougham, August 1, 1857, Brougham Papers, UCL 13903.

7 For a detailed description of the structure of the NAPSS, see Ritt, Lawrence, “The Victorian Concience in Action: The National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, 1857-1886” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1959), pp. 7991Google Scholar. Also, see Macleod, R. and Collins, P., eds., The Parliament of Science: The British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1831-1981 (London, 1981).Google Scholar

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13 McGregor, , “Social Research and Social Policy,” pp. 146157Google Scholar. Meliorism was a distinctly middle-class philosophy, and some students contend that the failure of meliorism in the face of a more aggressive working class is the principal reason for the Association's collapse in the mid-1880s. See M.W. Flinn's comments in Stewart, Alexander P. and Jenkins, Edward, The Medical and Legal Aspects of Sanitary Reform (Leicester, 1969), pp. 2124.Google Scholar

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28 BMJ, October 1,1864, p. 383. A zymotic disease is a disease believed to be caused by fermentative process. It was thought, for example, that small pox was spread in this fashion.

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37 Initially, it was not thought proper for women to read their own papers before the NAPSS congresses and the Executive Council degreed that men should read the work of prominent women. Within two years, however, this policy changed and women were able to read then-own work. See McCrone, Kathleen E., “The National Association for the Promotion of Social Science and the Advancement of Victorian Women,” Atlantis 8 (Autumn, 1982): 47Google Scholar. Mc-Crone's article provides an excellent assessment of the importance of the NAPSS toward advancing the cause of professional women in mid-Victorian England.

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41 Ibid., pp. 554-560.

42 Elizabeth Garrett gave interesting papers in 1866 and 1868, and Catherine Toison Duck contributed a noteworthy paper on hospital management in 1869. The administration of hospitals remained a major concern of the Health Department throughout the existence of the NAPSS. The 1881 Transactions printed in full Burdett's, Henry C. paper, “Is it Desirable that Hospitals Should be Placed Under State Supervision,” pp. 498512.Google Scholar

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74 April 22, 1886.

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