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"For Health - Eat Some Food from Each Group Every day!"[View Image]
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“For Health – Eat Some Food from Each Group Every day!” 1941-1945
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
National Archives Identifier 514287

Health & Nutrition 



In the history of American social welfare there are many instances where social reformers were intimately involved in efforts to improve health care, prevent disease, treat the sick and protect the frail and disabled.  The entries below are representative of some of these efforts.





  • American Social Health AssociationIn 1913, several organizations dedicated to fighting prostitution and venereal disease joined together to form the American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA).
  • American Social Hygiene Association (1946)"The American Social Hygiene Association: Some notes on the historical background, development, and future opportunities of the National Voluntary Organization for Social Hygiene in the United States." Written by William F. Snow, M.D., Chairman of the Board of Directors, 1946.
  • American Social Hygiene Association History and a Forecast This entry is an extensive history of the early years of the American Social Hygiene Association. The exact date of the report is not known; however, it is sometime immediately after World War I.
  • American Social Hygiene Association Posters for BoysImages from the "Keep Fit" posters designed to educate young males on physical and moral fitness.
  • American Social Hygiene Association Posters for GirlsThe “Youth and Life” posters were designed to educate teenage girls and young women about the dangers of sexual promiscuity and urge them to embrace moral and physical fitness. It was adapted in 1922 by the American Social Hygiene Association from “Keeping Fit,” a similar series for boys and young men.
  • American Social Hygiene Association Relationship to Community Welfare"The American Social Hygiene Association...extends its service to individuals and to private and public organizations interested in any phase of social hygiene work. For practical administration, it is divided into five departments: legal measures, medical measures, protective measures, recreational measures, educational measures, and public information."
  • American Social Hygiene Association: Keeping Fit Posters I (1919)"Keeping Fit" was a 48-poster series produced by the American Social Hygiene Association in collaboration with the U.S. Public Health Service and the YMCA in 1919. It was designed to educate teenage boys and young men about the dangers of sexual promiscuity and urged them to embrace moral and physical fitness. A parallel series, "Youth and Life" was designed for girls and young women.
  • American Social Hygiene Association: Keeping Fit Posters II (1919)"Keeping Fit" was a 48-poster series produced by the American Social Hygiene Association in collaboration with the U.S. Public Health Service and the YMCA in 1919. It was designed to educate teenage boys and young men about the dangers of sexual promiscuity and urged them to embrace moral and physical fitness. A parallel series, "Youth and Life" was designed for girls and young women.
  • American Social Hygiene Association: Youth and Life Posters (1922)The “Youth and Life” posters were designed to educate teenage girls and young women about the dangers of sexual promiscuity and urge them to embrace moral and physical fitness. It was adapted in 1922 by the American Social Hygiene Association from “Keeping Fit,” a similar series for boys and young men.
  • Are We Checking the Great Plague?Article written by R. A. Vonderlehr, M.D., appearing in Survey Graphic, 1940. "A little less than four years ago Surgeon General Thomas Parran launched the present campaign against syphilis...The battle has since been waged continuously with the cooperation of the medical profession, health officers, and voluntary agencies all over the country. It is of interest to pause briefly and take stock."
  • Assistance for the Disabled (1931)"Program of Assistance for the Crippled:" Radio address by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1931. "I want to talk, of course, about the big human side of relieving distress and helping people to get on their feet, but at the same time I think there is another phase of the broad question of looking after cripples to which some people have never given much thought--the financial side."
  • Baker, JosephineS. Josephine Baker (1873 – 1945) — Public health pioneer, administrator and advocate for the poor and sick in New York City
  • Birth Control WinsTwo events which occurred at the end of 1936 may signify a turning-point in the birth-control movement in America. Together they denote the closing of one era—the era of pioneering, of preparation, of laying the foundation—and the beginning of another—an era of extensive research and clinical accomplishments.
  • Blackwell, Elizabeth (1821-1910)At the age of 24, Elizabeth Blackwell had a revelation that changed her life, taking her far from her tiny Cincinnati schoolroom where she was teaching. She had gone to see Mary Donaldson, a family friend dying of what was probably uterine cancer. "My friend," Blackwell later recalled, "died of a painful disease, the delicate nature of which made the methods of treatment a constant suffering to her." A "lady doctor," Donaldson told her young visitor, would have spared her the embarrassment of having male physicians examine her. Indeed, Blackwell believed, had a female physician been available, Donaldson might have sought treatment in time to save her life. For the idealistic Blackwell, moved by her friend's plight, the idea of becoming a doctor "gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle."
  • Carry On: Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers and Sailors"In the first number of this magazine, June 1918, Surgeon General Gorgas promised that 'the Medical Department of the Army will 'Carry On' in the medical and training treatment of the disabled soldier until he is cured or as nearly cured as his disabilities permit.'"
  • City Diets and DemocracyThe proportion of our children who are found in families without adequate nutrition should be a matter of grave concern to all of us. A Bureau of Labor Statistics' study of employed wage earners and clerical workers shows that more than 40 percent of the children in this relatively favored group live in families whose incomes are below the level necessary to provide adequate food, as well as suitable housing, clothing, medical care, personal care, union dues, carfare, newspapers, and the other sorts of recreation for which city families must pay in dollars and cents.
  • City Diets and Democracy: 1941In developing an educational program for improving nutrition, it is important to keep in mind the importance of custom in our food habits. The Labor Department's recent studies of food consumption show the remarkable persistence of the food preferences of earlier generations in the localities studied. The tables of New Orleans still remind one of the fish, the chicken, the salads, and the greens of the French; the Bostonians still eat more beans and drink more tea than families in most other cities. In Cleveland and Milwaukee they eat more rye bread and cheese and apples and coffee. A national nutrition policy should plan to change food consumption habits only insofar as it is absolutely necessary to do so to provide all the nutrients necessary for health, efficiency, and the full enjoyment of life.
  • Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De PaulWritten by Michael Barga. "Originally founded in France, a congregation of sisters was started in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1809 by Elizabeth Ann Seton which would later become associated with the Daughters of Charity in 1850. The congregation, dedicated to work in social ministry and education, was the first sisterhood founded in the United States."
  • Effect of Economic Conditions Upon the Living Standards of Negroes (1928)Presentation by Forrester B. Washington, Director, Atlanta School of Social Work, given at the 55th Meeting of the National Conference on Social Welfare, 1928. "The problems which I will discuss are health, education, delinquency, crime and family disorganization. They follow logically those discussed by Mr. Thomas. In addition, I will attempt to summarize his paper and my own and present our combined recommendations."
  • Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda (1921)We have come to the conclusion, based on widespread investigation and experience, that this education for parenthood must be based upon the needs and demands of the people themselves. An idealistic code of sexual ethics, imposed from above, a set of rules devised by high-minded theorists who fail to take into account the living conditions and desires of the submerged masses, can never be of the slightest value in effecting any changes in the mores of the people. Such systems have in the past revealed their woeful inability to prevent the sexual and racial chaos into which the world has today drifted.
  • Food Assistance in the United States
  • Food, Farmers, and Fundamentals: 1941Thanks to the ever-normal granary and the efficiency of modern farm production, we can approach the problem of nutrition more constructively than during the last war. There seems little likelihood that we shall have meatless days, or days without sugar. The problem today is to use our soil, our farmers, our processors, our distributors, and our knowledge to produce the maximum of abounding health and spirits—a broad foundation on which we can build all the rest of our hemispheric defense.
  • Garrett, Mary Elizabeth (1854 - 1915)Mary Garrett and the “Friday Evening” group next turned their attention on ways to provide opportunities for women at the Johns Hopkins University. The women of the “Friday Evening” formed the Women’s Medical School Fund Committee in response to a nation-wide appeal for philanthropic assistance initiated by University president D.C. Gilman. Proposing to raise $100,000 for the endowment of the medical school if the trustees would agree to admit women on the same terms as men, the committee embarked upon a major public relations effort to promote medical education for women. When they finished, the Johns Hopkins University—and medical education in the United States—would never be the same.
  • Hammond, Dr. William A.In 1878 a bill was submitted to Congress authorizing the President to review the proceedings of the court-martial which convicted Dr. Hammond, and, if justice demanded, to reinstate him. This measure was passed almost unanimously by the House and Senate. In August, 1879, it was approved by President Hayes, and, after inquiry, he restored Dr. Hammond to his place on the rolls of the army as Surgeon General and Brigadier General on the retired list.
  • Health Conservation and the WPAThe Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created by Executive Order #7034 on May 6, 1935. President Roosevelt had the authority for this Executive Order via the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. The WPA was created to offer direct government employment to the jobless. The unemployment rate was about 20% at the time the WPA was created. The WPA lasted until June 30, 1943. The unemployment rate then was possibly below 2%, with many Americans working in the armed services, defense industries, etc. The WPA–during it’s 8 years of existence–employed over 8.5 million different Americans, and reached peak employment of over 3.3 million in late 1938.
  • Health Conservation and WPA (1939)The following address was delivered by Mrs. Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner, Work Projects Administration. "In our WPA project work, we have come to grips with the problem of public health on a number of important fronts...we are not just talking about the need for better sanitation the need for more medical, dental and nursing service, the need of school children for hot, well-balanced lunches, the need of home visits to underprivileged families in time of illness...We're...doing something about them."
  • Health Work For Negro Children-- 1925There are too many deaths among Negro children today, for the good of the Negro race and for the good of the country as a whole. The Negro race needs a stronger and more healthy younger generation to help it combat successfully the many obstacles which it must meet. In addition to the normal struggle for existence, the black man in America must endure a number of handicaps. He must make his living by means of the lowest-paid and most unhealthful jobs in industry, though this condition is improving somewhat in certain sections of the country. He must struggle for life itself against unfavorable environments in the form of the least healthful neighborhoods and the oldest and most unsanitary houses.
  • Hot Lunches for a Million School ChildrenOne million undernourished children have benefited by the Works Progress Administration's school lunch program. In the past year and a half 80,000,000 hot well-balanced meals have been served at the rate of 500,000 daily in 10,000 schools throughout the country.
  • Influence Of The Medical Setting On Social Case Work Services 1940The great complexity of the modern medical institution, the extreme development of specialization, the multiple details required by clinic and ward administration, all combine to create a certain inevitable amount of confusion, overlapping, and delay. Where there are several professions working together, there are unavoidable duplications, gaps, and conflicts. Division of labor in the hospital has been carried to a degree where many of the activities have assumed an impersonal character, until the patient as an individual is lost to sight. Mechanical procedures and rigidities may develop until the very concept of the hospital's purpose itself becomes narrowed. This means that it is at the same time both more important and more difficult for social case work to find and hold its own purpose in such a setting.
  • LGBTQIA+ Health Disparities
  • Medicaid Program (circ. 1980)Medicaid (Title XIX of the Social Security Act) was created with little debate in 1965. Its purpose was to provide federal financial assistance (FFP) to states in providing health care for public welfare recipients. Similar to other state-federal public welfare program, states had to choose whether or not to participate in the Medicaid program.
  • Mental Health America - OriginsIn 1908, Clifford Whittingham Beers published his autobiography “A Mind That Found Itself.” The publication chronicled his struggle with mental illness and the shameful state of mental health care in America. In the first page of his book, Beers reveals why he wrote the book: "...I am not telling the story of my life just to write a book. I tell it because it seems my plain duty to do so. A narrow escape from death and a seemingly miraculous return to health after an apparently fatal illness are enough to make a man ask himself: For what purpose was my life spared? That question I have asked myself, and this book is, in part, an answer...."
  • Milestones in Social HygieneBy Anna Garlin Spencer. Through the consolidation of the American Federation for Sex Hygiene, the American Vigilance Association (which was the later name for the American Vigilance Committee) the American Purity Alliance, and other agencies for social service, the present American Social Hygiene Association came into existence in 1914.
  • Mobilize for Total Nutrition! (1941)Very many families are unable to secure enough "protective foods." Milk, meat, eggs, fresh vegetables, and fruits are relatively expensive. Whole wheat bread and other whole grain cereals are perishable—a factor which adds to the cost of their distribution. The farmer in most cases can keep a cow and have a garden and an orchard; but on some poor lands, this is impossible. The city dweller is always dependent on the market for the variety of foods available to him and the amounts which his dollar will purchase. Families with incomes below a certain level must have assistance in tangible form if they are to secure the foods which provide an adequate diet. Assistance may take the form of a money dole, or it may involve the direct distribution of food.
  • Nurses and Wartime St. Vincent’s HospitalSt. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village was not just a place of employment for nurses, but it was also a place for education. In 1892, forty-three years after the hospital’s opening, the St. Vincent’s School of Nursing opened its doors to women. The school was first directed by Katherine A. Sanborn. Many graduates from this school continued their work at St. Vincent’s hospital. Other graduates went to work elsewhere in New York City, including the New York Foundling Hospital, another institution directed by the Sisters of Charity. Eventually, in the 1930s, St. Vincent’s School of Nursing began to accept men. This produced even more graduates and more St. Vincent’s educated nurses working in the field.
  • Nurses In "Settlement" Work (1895)Presentation by Lillian D. Wald at the Twenty-Second Annual Session of the National Conference Of Charities And Correction, 1895. "The actual nursing in the tenements, the lending of sick-room utensils and bedding, and the making of delicacies and carrying of flowers have not been different from the usual methods of district nursing."
  • PolioPolio is caused by a virus; it affects the body by attacking the central nervous system, specifically those neurons essential for muscle activity. The first U.S. polio epidemic swept across the country in 1916, and then again in the late 1940s and 1950s.
  • Sanger, MargaretMargaret (nee: Higgins) Sanger risked scandal, danger, and imprisonment to challenge the legal and cultural obstacles that made controlling fertility difficult and illegal. Ms. Sanger viewed birth control as a woman's issue and she was prepared to take on the medical establishment, the churches, the legislatures, and the courts. She was persuasive, tireless, single-minded, and unafraid of a fight. On October 16,1916 she opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn, was arrested, and served thirty days for distributing information about contraceptives. From that experience, Sanger moved on to assume leadership of the struggle for free access to birth control. In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League, the precursor to the Planned Parenthood Federation, and spent her next three decades campaigning to bring safe and effective birth control into the American mainstream.
  • Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, OHWritten by Michael Barga. "The work of the SCCs includes the creation of orphanages, schools, and hospitals... SCCs make vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience to God and strive to live simply, be in solidarity with the poor, and embrace multiculturalism in ministry and membership."
  • Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, KYWritten by Michael Barga. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky (SCNs) are a religious order in the Catholic Church whose social concern and traditional spirituality stem from Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. Their initial local efforts in education, health care, and social service have expanded to the international level today.
  • Sisters of Charity of New YorkWritten by Michael Barga. "Some of the earliest sustained social service institutions and health care facilities in New York City were started by the sisters. Their allegiance to local Catholics in the city came in conflict with their obedience to their superiors ... eventually leading to the establishment of a separate order recognized as the Sisters of Charity of New York (SCNY)."
  • Social Unit PlanThe social unit plan aims to bring about a genuine and efficient democracy by showing the rank and file how to secure for themselves a clear idea of their own needs and by helping them to organize for the satisfaction of those needs the best skill and the wisest advice available. Practical health work is the point of attack because it is one of the sorest immediate needs and the one of which people are most conscious. The laboratory chosen for the working out of this new concept of democracy is a typical district of Cincinnati containing approximately fifteen thousand people. In this district, under the control of the citizens who reside in it and with the co-operation of citizens throughout the entire city as well as of the city government, it is planned to develop an organization which, if successful, may later, with minor modifications, be capable of application in other sections of the city and in cities throughout the country.
  • Social Work At Massachusetts General Hospital: 1908Ida Maud Cannon was responsible for developing the first social work department in a hospital in the United States. Convinced that medical practice could not be effective without examining the link between illness and the social conditions of the patient Cannon diligently worked at creating the field of medical social work. During her long career, she worked as a nurse, a social worker, Chair of Social Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, author of a seminal book in the medical social work field, organizer of the American Association of Hospital Social Workers, consultant to hospitals and city administrations throughout the United States, professor and designer of a training curriculum for medical social workers.
  • The 1970's as Policy WatershedIn 1974 the expansive social policy system that had prevailed in the postwar era ended, and a more restrictive system that would characterize the rest of the seventies and the early eighties began to take its place.
  • The First Step Toward FitnessWhen America began to recover from the Great Depression, it began to take stock of its human resources. We found that a large minority of our population did not get enough to eat. These people who did not get enough to at were below par in health. They were below par in initiative and alertness.
  • The Job AheadA call to action—and a program. An epochal statement.—by the Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service in July 1941.
  • The Lesson of Selective Service: 1941Out of a million men examined by Selective Service and about 560,000 excepted by the army, a total of 380,000 have been found unfit for general military service. It has been estimated that perhaps one third of the rejections were due either directly or indirectly to nutritional deficiencies. In terms of men, the army today has been deprived of 150,000 who should be able to do duty as soldiers. This is 15 percent of the total number physically examined by the Selective Service System
  • The March Against Commercialized Prostitution: 1886-1949An informal chronicle of national and international events contributing to progress in this field of social hygiene.
  • The Place Of Social Work In Public Health-- 1926The influence of social work on public health administration is found in the development of every branch of that service in the past fifty years. The recreation movement, the child welfare movement, and such special developments as workingmen's compensation in the industrial field have all been influenced by the humanitarian interests of the forces interested in social work, and each of these has had a direct bearing upon the health of the several communities in this country.
  • The Relation Of Hospital Social Service To Child Health Work: 1921The term hospital social service is unfortunately not a very specific term, as it has come to be used to include a great variety of extra-mural service to hospital and dispensary patients. It has been used to designate such a variety of functions as a simple follow-up system to keep track of patients' attendance at clinics, friendly visiting in the wards, various phases of public health nursing, a variety of administrative functions at admission desks and in the clinics, and medical-social case work. The fact is that all these various types of service are coming to be recognized as necessary to the improvement of hospital and dispensary service. All of them recognize the necessity of individualizing the patients and taking into account some of the social elements in the patients' situation. Before we can discuss hospital social work intelligently, we need more specific terminology and definition. I shall not attempt that now but shall choose for discussion the contribution that was made to the efficiency of medical treatment by the introduction of the trained social worker into the staff of hospitals and dispensaries. Visiting nursing in the homes of dispensary patients antedated the present hospital social work movement by several years and still remains in many cities the long arm of the hospital extending skilled nursing service and hygiene teaching to the patients discharged from the hospital or under supervision of the dispensary. Such service has long been recognized as essential to baby welfare and tuberculosis clinics and has stimulated the development of public health nursing organization in most of our cities.
  • U.S. Public Health ServiceProtecting and advancing the health of our nation’s people and contributing to the delivery of health care world-wide is very important work and the main task of the Public Health Service (PHS). The PHS is a principal part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the major health agency of the Federal Government.
  • U.S. Public Health ServiceThe history of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) developed in stages: 1) the U.S. Marine Hospital Service (1798-1902), 2) the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service (1902-1912), and 3) the U.S. Public Health Service (1912-present).
  • U.S. Sanitary Commission: 1861The object of the Sanitary Commission was to do what the Government could not. The Government undertook, of course, to provide all that was necessary for the soldier, . . . but, from the very nature of things, this was not possible. . . . The methods of the commission were so elastic, and so arranged to meet every emergency, that it was able to make provision for any need, seeking always to supplement, and never to supplant, the Government.
  • Visiting Nurse Service Administered by the Henry Street Settlement (1936)"What the skill and care of these devoted nurses has meant to thousands of the needy sick, of all ages, during these dark times, no statistics can reflect. Home nursing, such as ours, includes health education to the family as well as care to the patient. The charts and facts presented in this report enable those previously unfamiliar with our work to understand in some small measure the significance of the Service."
  • Voluntary Health InsuranceIn many respects the most direct answer of all is found in the formation of a group health cooperative or similar type of group health association. Such an organization represents the practical realization on the part of its members that they cannot safely rely either for the presence of doctors among them or for adequate health facilities upon the fortuitous illness and generosity of well­ to-do people. Instead the potential need for health care on the part of an entire group of people is pooled, together with monthly payments to cover the esti­mated cost of such care. In other words, the principle of pre­payment, which everyone agrees is the central answer to the problem of en­abling people generally to pay for ade­quate health care, is applied.
  • What Is The Public Practice Of Medicine? -- 1926Freedom from political domination is perhaps responsible more than any other single factor for the public health progress in Cincinnati. This change was brought about in I910, and with it came a reorganization of the health department, until now it parallels an ideal organization recommended by Dr. C. E. A. Winslow, chairman of the Committee on Municipal Health Department Practice of the American Public Health Association. The fact that the members of the Cincinnati Board of Health are appointed for ten years, and that only one member retires every two years, guarantees continuity of program and policy. This is a wise provision of our charter. All members of the health department are civil service appointees and devote their full time to public service.
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