Medicine transformed: on access to healthcare
Medicine transformed: on access to healthcare

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Medicine transformed: on access to healthcare

3.3 Hygiene

Good hygiene – a clean home and a clean body – would also appear to have been available to all classes, but again, it was easier for the wealthier classes to achieve these goals. Newer houses, with bathrooms and laundries, modern plumbing and sanitary facilities, and servants to do the hard work, ensured that the middle and upper classes could enjoy regular baths (hot and cold), clean clothes and clean homes.

Exercise and good personal hygiene were not just a means of protecting health but were also pursued for aesthetic reasons. Women, for example, took exercise to promote grace and suppleness, and bathing was presented as a way for them to pamper themselves with scented soaps and oils, not just to get clean (Stewart, 2001, pp. 65–72). The Ladies Diary and Housekeeper for 1917 provided beauty hints, allegedly written by ‘an eminent MD’, who suggested that ‘a cheerful disposition’ would prevent wrinkles and gave a recipe for a cream to soothe the blistered hands of overenthusiastic sportswomen. A revolution in women's clothing came about through a similar mixture of aesthetics and concerns about health. By the 1900s, tightly laced corsets were seen as a hazard to health, squashing women's internal organs (thus threatening the health of future babies) and preventing them from inhaling health-giving fresh air. Very long skirts also prevented women from taking exercise. Despite objections from some men, who found women wearing culottes or bloomers ‘manly’ and rather disgusting, women increasingly wore lighter clothing with shorter skirts and flexible stays and brassieres. By the 1920s, short tennis dresses were even considered to be chic (Stewart, 2001, pp. 72–4, 169). At this time, men's clothing also became lighter (Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3 Advertisement for Dr Rasurel's hygienic underclothing, 1906. Note the associations between the clothes being advertised and health. The reader is assured that the clothes are ‘hygienic’; they carry the name of a doctor, and the family pose surrounded by green plants, presumably in the open air. Rural settings were always seen as being more healthy than the urban environment. Wellcome Library, London
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