Health and Medicine

Herbert Spencer’s Critique of the Board of Health in 1851

Herbert Spencer has the therapeutic state figured out in 1851

By Phillip W. Magness, American Institute for Economic Research

In the 19th century, outbreaks of Cholera were common, and Britain deployed a “Board of Health” to manage and suppress the disease. England experienced a particularly severe wave of outbreaks in 1848 and 1849, with recurring instances over the next decade and a half.

The Board of Health in London adopted the consensus belief that Cholera spread by miasmic properties, which is to say “bad air” that supposedly caused the disease to linger in the vicinity of sewage, garbage, and similar sanitary problems. Address these concerns and the disease would vanish, or so the logic followed. The Board of Health accordingly hired and deployed teams of sanitary inspectors around the city to oversee and regulate the improvement of sewage systems that would carry the perceived source of Cholera away.


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