The Spirit of 1848 A Network Linking Politics, Passion, & Public Health 
an officially recognized caucus within the American Public Health Association

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Why 1848?


Selected notable events in and around 1848


Louis Rene Villerme publishes the first major study of workers' health in France, A Description of the Physical and Moral State of Workers Employed in Cotton, Linen, and Silk Mills (1840); in England, Edwin Chadwick publishes General Report on Sanitary Conditions of the Laboring Population in Great Britain (1842); first child labor laws in the Britain and the United States (1842); end of the Second Seminole War (1842); prison reform movement in the United States initiated by Dorothea Dix (1843); Frederick Engels publishes The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844); John Griscom publishes The Sanitary Condition of the Laboring Population of New York with Suggestions for Its Improvement (1845); Irish famine (1845-1848) despite high agricultural output and protests against British agricultural and trade policies; start of US-Mexican war (1846); Frederick Douglass founds The North Star, an anti-slavery newspaper (1847); Southwood Smith publishes An Address to the Working Classes of the United Kingdom on their Duty in the Present State of the Sanitary Question (1847)


World-wide cholera epidemic

Uprisings in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Palermo, Milan, Naples, Parma, Rome, Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest; start of Second Sikh war against British in India

In the midst of the 1848 revolution in Germany, Rudolf Virchow founds the medical journal Medical Reform (Medicinische Reform), and writes his classic "Report on the Typhus Epidemic in Upper Silesia," in which he concludes that preserving health and preventing disease requires "full and unlimited democracy" and radical measures rather than "mere palliatives"

Revolution in France, abdication of Louis Philippe, worker uprising in Paris, and founding of The Second Republic, which creates a public health advisory committee attached to the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce and establishes network of local public health councils

First Public Health Act in Britain, which creates a General Board of Health, empowered to establish local boards of health to deal with the water supply, sewerage, and control of "offensive trades," and also to conduct surveys of sanitary conditions

The newly formed American Medical Association sets up a Public Hygiene Committee to address public health issues

First Women's Rights Convention in the United States, at Seneca Falls

Henry Thoreau publishes Civil Disobedience, to protest paying taxes to support the United State's war against Mexico

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels publish The Communist Manifesto


Elizabeth Blackwell sets up the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children (1849); Lemuel Shattuck publishes Report of the Sanitary Commission of Massachusetts (1850); founding of the London Epidemiological Society (1850); Indian Wars in the southwest and far west (1849-1892); Compromise of 1850 retains slavery in the United States and Fugitive Slave Act passed; Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852); Sojourner Truth delivers her "Ain't I a Woman" speech at the Fourth Seneca Fall convention (1853); John Snow removes the handle of the Broad Street Pump to stop the cholera epidemic in London (1854)

Also see the following articles:

Coordinating Committee of Spirit of 1848 (Krieger N, Zapata C, Murrain M, Barnett E, Parsons PE, Birn AE). Spirit of 1848: a network linking politics, passion, and public health. Critical Public Health 1998; 8:97-103.

Krieger N, Birn AE. A vision of social justice as the foundation of public health: commemorating 150 years of the spirit of 1848. Am J Public Health 1998; 88:1603-1606.



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