Page images

perience, and for the formation of those qualities of character that come through a rich and normal lifeexperience. Health is one of the most important factors that make for morality; bodily depression warps the judgment, causes irritability and discouragement, lowers resistance to temptation, weakens the will. It affects immediately the interest in one's work and the quality, as well as quantity of work done. As Horace Mann, our great educator, wrote, “All through the life of a feeble-bodied man, his path is lined with memory's gravestones which mark the spots where noble enterprises perished for lack of physical vigor to embody them in deeds.”

From a purely utilitarian and financial point of view, the conservation of health is of extreme importance.

As compared with most other peoples, the American average of health and longevity is good. Yet thirty million American wage earners lose from sickness every year an average of nine days each, a wage loss, at $3.50 a day, of nearly a billion dollars, besides a cost for treatment of perhaps $200,000,000. Three hundred thousand babies die annually in this country; it is estimated that at least half of these deaths in infancy could be easily prevented. Tuberculosis alone costs the country $350,000,000 a year, and malaria $100,000,000. Both of these diseases are preventable by known means. The annual death rate for the United States as a whole has been, in recent years, about 14 per thousand population. ,

Some States have rates as high as 16 or 17, in normal years, and some cities have rates over 20 per thousand. On the other hand, some States have rates around 10; the State of Washington has kept close to 8. Australia has kept close to 10, New Zealand between 9 and 10. With proper care, the rate might be lowered through

out the country to the level attained in these more advanced communities. To lower it from 14 to 10 per thousand would mean an annual saving of 400,000 lives. So Secretary of Commerce Redfield was hardly too sanguine when he declared that "we can save the lives of 500,000 people a year if we choose.”

The two prime causes of this needlessly high deathrate are poverty and ignorance. The importance of the latter factor is revealed by the fact that while in our cities there has been in general a marked decline in the death-rate in recent years, the rate in the country, where hygienic knowledge has been less disseminated, remains close to the older levels. Country folks as a whole pay less attention to ventilation, and to the provision of a normal and wholesome diet. There is much malnutrition found in rural districts, and a startling ignorance of the proper care of children. Country people are more apt to ignore defects of the eyes, ears, teeth, or throat. A recent investigation sums up its conclusions in the following words: “The standards of living on the American farm, when tested by the accepted principles of physiology, sani- . tation, and hygiene, are alarmingly defective.”

In some parts of the South, conditions are intolerable. Dr. Frederic T. Gates of the General Education Board, writing in 1916, estimated that there were two million children in the South between six and sixteen years of age stunted physically and mentally by the hookworm disease, while many thousands died annually from its effects. School-inspectors have in some districts found over half of the school children defective or more or less disabled from other preventable or curable ailments.

The effect of poverty upon the death-rate can be clearly seen in available statistics. A bulletin issued by the Children's Bureau in Washington shows the following relation between income and infant deathrate:

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Income $ 450 and under, infant death rate 242



125 1,250 and over


1,049 «

[ocr errors]

Poverty means under-nutrition, lack of proper liv. ing-conditions, lack of care during illness, and, often, over-work and worry, which greatly lessen resistance to disease. Dr. Wood states that one child in every five in the United States is suffering from insufficient nutrition. Dr. William Emerson, a Boston authority, recently reckoned the number even higher. In 1917, medical examination discovered 160,000 children in the high schools alone of New York City who "show the stigmata of prolonged undernourishment.”

The parents of these undernourished children usually age quickly, being often past their prime at forty or forty-five, whereas professional men and the employing class very commonly keep efficient and hearty until seventy. Professor Lester Ward, in his Applied Sociology, shows that the average longevity of the rich is practically double that of the poor. John Spargo finds the death-rate among the “well-todo" about 10 per 1000, among the best-paid laborers 15, among the lower paid laborers 35. These divisions and figures are, of course, more or less arbitrary; but the general situation is unquestioned. The poor have far from an equal chance for life and health.

A recent federal investigation in Montclair, N. J. disclosed an average infant mortality of 84 per thousand. Among the babies of business or professional

[ocr errors]

men the rate was 41; among the higher-paid laborers the rate was 74; among the low-paid laborers, it was 130. In the tenement district of Johnstown, Pa., the rate, recently, was 271. Statistics compiled a decade ago revealed the fact that the children of the lowerpaid workers weighed, at sixteen, nineteen and a half pounds less, on the average, and were three and threequarters inches lower in stature, than the children of the well-to-do. Miss Esther Lovejoy, in Democracy in Reconstruction, draws this obvious conclusion: “The great predisposing cause of premature death is poverty. . . . Any social scheme that insures a fair standard of living will reduce the death-rate.. We should have not only minimum wages, upon which men and women can live without working themselves to death, but we should have minimum standards of living, below which human beings should not be permitted to fall. ... It is self-evident that conditions that condemn millions of people to premature death are public nuisances that should be legally abated without loss of time.”

Surely every child that is born an American should have the best possible chance for health and long life. If the children of the poor die in great numbers, or grow up stunted, coarsened, dull of mind and sickly of body, society has failed in its duty. As Mr. Walter Weyl forcibly puts it, "Every preventable death is a reflection upon the good will or the intelligence of the community which suffers it.” “On a mere calculation of dollars and cents, it is a foolish extravagance to allow a baby to die for lack of a few dollars' worth of pure milk, or to allow an expensively bred workman to die for lack of a few hundred dollars spent in protection and prevention. But we do not yet realize that it is we as a community who pay for these deaths,

[ocr errors]

although we only too clearly realize that it is we who pay for their prevention."

England and America have attained their industrial pre-eminence at the cost of the lives and health of their workers. The appallingly large percentage of volunteers and drafted men rejected because of poor physical condition in both countries shows, more than anything else, the result of the working-conditions in our factories and mills and mines, and the living conditions of the poorer half of our population. Tuberculosis will always be with us while we have congested slums. Men below weight, under-developed muscularly, and weak in resistance to disease, will always exist in great numbers while they are thought of as mere "hands," to be hired at the lowest rate for which they will work, and crowded into uncomfortable and unsanitary homes.

Many movements for the amelioration of this shocking situation are under way. Wages of some of the poorest paid workers have been raised. Factories are becoming cleaner, lighter, less dusty, better ventilated. Housing laws are making impossible the worst types of earlier tenements. Bad as conditions are in New York City today, the tenement-house legislation of recent years has had a large part in the reduction of that city's death-rate from nearly 19 to 13.5 per thousand. Pure food and pure milk laws have likewise been of great value. Motherhood classes are teaching ignorant women not to expose milk to air, heat, and flies, and averting many other perils from their babies.

Most important of all, perhaps, is the extension of physical education in the public schools. School nurses are discovering defects and contagious diseases in the children, and are explaining to their parents

« PreviousContinue »