Date of Award

12-2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

Anthropology

Major Professor

Michael Logan

Committee Members

Benita J. Howell, Mariana Ferreira

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to document the change in attitudes and behaviors pertaining to public and personal hygiene habits at the turn of the nineteenth century. Public utilities, such as municipal water supplies, sanitary sewage systems, and refuse disposal reduced the incidence of communicable diseases. Access to potable water and sewage disposal encouraged a Health Revolution in the United States and the United Kingdom during the era 1890-1920.

Advertisers began (in 1890 and continuing into the 1920s) to employ the fear of contagious diseases, as well as the virtue of beauty, to target consumers and to promote the sale of products. Soap advertisements, specifically, used these persuasive tactics. The newly emerging national magazines, in particular, were the preferred vehicles through which these advertisements changed the consumers' perception of personal cleanliness. Bathing was no longer an activity reserved for the eclectic and very wealthy. Within a few decades, personal cleanliness was normative.

During the quarter decade 1890-1915, infant mortality rates declined significantly. This is particularly true for gastroenteritis. It can be demonstrated that the shift in opinions about hygiene was responsible for saving countless infant lives from diarrhea.

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