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Epidemic Cholera and American reform movements in the 19th century

Epidemic Cholera and American reform movements in the 19th century
Kim S.
Ewha Authors
Issue Date
Journal Title
Korean Journal of Medical History
1225-505XJCR Link
vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 783 - 814
19th century American societyEpidemic choleraMedical reformMoral reformSanitary reform
Korean Society for the History of Medicine
The 19th century was the age of great reform in American history. After constructing of the canal and railroads, the industrialization began and American society changed so rapidly. In this period, there were so many social crisis and American people tried to solve these problems within the several reform movements. These reform movements were the driving forces to control cholera during the 19th century. Cholera was the endemic disease in Bengal, India, but after the 19th century it had spread globally by the development of trade networks. The 1832 cholera in the United States was the first epidemic cholera in American history. The mortality of cholera was so high, but it was very hard to find out the cause of this fatal infectious disease. So, different social discourses happened to control epidemic cholera in the 19th century, these can be understood within the similar context of American reform movements during this period. Board of Health in New York States made a new public health act to control cholera in 1832, it was ineffective. Some people insisted that the cause of this infectious disease was the corruption of the United States. They emphasized unjust and immoral system in American society. Moral reform expanded to Nativism, because lots of Irish immigrants were the victims of cholera. So, epidemic cholera was the opportunity to spread the desire for moral reform. To control cholera in 1849, the sanitary reform in Britain had affected. The fact that it was so important to improve and maintain the water quality for the control and prevention of disease spread, the sanitary reform happened. There were two different sphere of the sanitary reform. The former was the private reform to improve sewer or privy, the latter was the public reform to build sewage facilities. The 1849 cholera had an important meaning, because the social discourse, which had emphasized the sanitation of people or home expanded to the public sphere. When cholera broke out in 1866 again, the new discourse to raise the necessity of professional medical personnel. The establishment of Metropolitan Board of Heath forced to appoint trained medical people and the treatment of disease at the home moved to medical doctors who had professional knowledge and authority. In this meaning, the medical reform provided the opportunity the appearance of professionalized medical doctors. These epidemic cholera during the 19th century, there were different reform movements in American society. The infectious disease affected development and changes of American society, the most important thing was that the problem of sanitation and public health was not only the private one, but the serious problems in society and nation. So, epidemic cholera during the 19th century provided more balanced perspective to analyze the American society in this period. © The Korean Society for the History of Medicine.
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