Chapter 15

Pioneer for Public Health

The community is only a larger family group, and social consciousness must in time take into account social welfare.

~ Ellen Swallow Richards

The Hub of the Universe,” This if what the Boston area was sometimes called because of its trade and industry. Being the “Hub of the Universe” was not entirely a good thing, however, and Ellen knew it. The city had grown fast and the increased population caused neighborhoods to be overcrowded. Children as young as eight years old were put to work in factories and mills that polluted the air and water. The children and adults labored for long hours, often in unsafe conditions, operating dangerous machinery and breathing toxic air. It was not uncommon for factories, businesses, and homes to have pipes that actually ventilated dangerous sewer gases into the buildings.

Life expectancy was about ten years shorter in cities than in rural areas. Diseases spread more easily in cities and pollution of all types was greater. Many people thought that disease and illness were either inherited or were occupational hazards. But with her microscope, Ellen showed how contamination and pollution caused unhealthy conditions. With her determination, she vowed to improve those conditions.

From her water studies, Ellen had proof that dirty water from streams, ponds, rivers, and sewers carried diseases. She also knew that rats, flies, mosquitoes, and other insects that were attracted to the animal waste, garbage, and saliva ...

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