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Report on Personal Hygiene

September 23, 1904 — Sixth Annual Conference on Home Economics, Iroquois Branch, Lake Placid Club, Lake Placid NY


The basis of the earliest forms of public education in America was that of the production of efficient citizens. A citizen was one who could take part in the government of the state. He must read, in order to know what had been written in the past; he must write in order to influence men who could read, and to put on record his ideas. As the existence of the state depended on trade and commerce, he must “cipher” or keep accounts.

Thus arose the cult of the three Rs which became the most solidly placed of the corner stones of the new republic. To-day when an immigrant ship discharges its cargo of foreign children the authorities gather them into school rooms and teach them to read and write English and to add, multiply and divide.

The early settler was very jealous of his individual rights and history reveals a struggle between the second and third instalment of settlers and those first colonies which had determined upon compulsory schooling; the latter won and to-day it is the proud boast of America that every child has the fundamentals of education.

In pioneer times, when history was making, there was little temptation to excess in living, there was a unity of purpose in each community and an ideal, even if mistaken, for which to work. Family discipline was strict and the school was only an aid to the family and to the minister, in moral development of the future citizen.

To-day the family group is in process of disintegration, the responsibility for the welfare of the children is shifted to the school, the policeman and the board of health. The result is deterioration, mental, moral and physical, of hundreds and thousands of our children. In following out old methods we have lost sight of the aims and ends of education and have overlooked the revolutionary changes in conditions due to over crowding in cities, to industrial evolution and to decadence of ethical ideals.

May not an efficient remedy be found in teaching in all schools a fourth R in addition to the time honored three? Right living or right ideals of life and its meaning. Not in a sentimental way but as practical rules of conduct and the reasons therefor. What to eat and how to keep clean; the reasons for fresh air and daily exercise — hygiene in a sense but with an added reason for the self restraint and self denial it means ¾ a goal to reach.

The efficient man — a pleasure to himself ¾ a valuable citizen and a delight to the community. This fourth R may be perhaps best introduced into the present school curriculum thru the medium of the group of lessons comprised under the general term Domestic science. There is a certain modicum of hygiene already in the schools, but it is not closely enough related to the food habits or to the ideals and aims of the pupil. Give the child an end for which to work and he will willingly bend his energies to the task.


In elementary and secondary schools, we claim that education should produce:

Social Efficiency, character as expressed by truth, honor, self sacrifice and cooperation

Economic Efficiency, self support, not a social debtor, adding to group possessions and pleasures, a productive citizen of the state

Individual Efficiency, personal health, joy in living, contributing, in self and children, to race progress

This end should be for better physical condition for work and for pleasure. For the state it should be to secure for the child such environment and atmosphere as shall permit full intellectual and spiritual development of the soul.

Future social progress demands ideals in the use of things material.

Whether individual or social efficiency should be first considered we leave to the schoolman, but social efficiency may be made an incentive to better individual living as well as the more material treatment on the economic side.

The limitations of life and living processes. Why does a plant or a pug dog die if over fed? Why does a child’s heart give out on over exercise? We need the teaching of definite limitations and then we need the inspiration of improvements in life results, as shown in the annals of plant and animal breeding within the past few years.

The human race has the power to forecast the future, to deny its self the delicious morsel to-day for the sake of winning the race tomorrow.

Most of the teaching may be by indirect methods, illustrations, and therefore it is that the various facts about foods, cleanliness, dirt infection and personal methods in eating, sleeping, exercising, etc. offer such a good medium for the inculcation of habits while the child is yet plastic and takes the good methods we may present as readily as bad ones. This is economic, for then he does not have to struggle to unlearn before he can adopt new ways.

Altho America has not become aroused as Great Britain has to the undoubted fact of tendencies of physical deterioration, it is on the verge of an awakening. The public school is the natural medium for spreading better ideals and if teachers of cooking and hygiene would cooperate and use all the material which sanitary science is heaping on the table before them, we should soon see a betterment of physical status. Combined with medical inspection and sanitary construction of school houses, this would raise the general health of the community 30 or 40 per cent in five years and 50 to 70 per cent in ten years.

The Lake Placid conference, therefore, recommends the careful study and full discussion of the following topics by teachers, mothers’ clubs, and all groups of persons interested in the promotion of better lives and better living.

1. Significance of personal health

Use of energy for self, the world, the future race, means happiness for self, family and friends, filling a place in the world — not a social debtor.

2. Effect of civilization on health has always been to lower it because as yet no nation has studied the question scientifically. England is now awakening. See Mrs A. Watt Smyth, Physical deterioration, its causes and the cure.

American schools should begin to teach ideals of health.

3. Hygiene of infancy

A valuable animal is to be raised in perfect condition, as valuable as a trotting horse or a blooded heifer; not a plaything to be shown off, or a nuisance to be narcotized — a potential asset, a future citizen. The fundamental assumption of hygienics is that the human organism is capable of better things than it has yet attained.

4. Home and school must not oppose each other

For the poor and ignorant the school has great work to do. It must look after the physical well being of its pupils. This is quite as much its duty as to teach them to read. It should take note of curved spines, defective eyes, etc. as well as of defective spelling.

5. Hygiene of youth

Engrossing occupation with good food and good air. Life should be full of interesting outside things, — so full that self is not noticed. Abundant energy is to be utilised, not suppressed. This utilization of motor activities is to some extent made for boys in manual training with the added incentive of construction.

6. Domestic science offers for girls opportunities to develop both the motor activities and the creative and constructive sides of human intelligence. It also offers one of the best mediums for health instruction, reaching to the parents and homes of the children.

7. Food, its uses and abuses.

8. Microbes, their help to man and their dangers.

9. Heredity and health.

A certain fatalism has crept into the minds of most people. My father had dyspepsia, my mother had sick headaches, therefore I must put up with both.

Domestic science properly taught will correct these false ideas. Teachers may well put on their walls, as a motto for their classes, the following words of Dr Robert Hutchinson: “Of all factors in the environment, that of the greatest importance in promoting bad physical and bad mental development is, I believe, the food factor.”

Voted: that the committee on hygiene be instructed to further the work of making hygiene the basis of domestic science in elementary schools and to prepare a suggestive outline.



Source: Lake Placid Conference on Home Economics, Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Conference, September 19-24, 1904 (Lake Placid, NY) 1904, pp. 64-67.