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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Stanley A. Edlavitch, PhD, MA (University of Kansas School of Medicine)
Description: Professor Leavitt, the Ruth Bleier Professor of the History of Medicine and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, authors this book that describes the city of Milwaukee, its health problems, and the evolution of the health department. The book illustrates the politics of health reform and the roles played by the health commissioners, politicians, volunteer groups, the press, and the general public. Chapters address smallpox, garbage, and milk as illustrative examples. The final chapters provide insights into how nineteenth century struggles led to the consolidation of a public health structure to incorporate government agencies, volunteer groups, and community leaders. This paperback is a reprinting of the 1982 hardbound edition.
Purpose: Between 1850 and 1900, Milwaukee grew from 20,000 to approximately 300,000 residents. This rapid population growth and the influx of immigrants (mostly German), challenged the city fathers and the populace to deal with the control of infectious diseases, inadequate supplies of clean water, garbage and waste disposal, and food control. Many of the issues regarding prejudices, inadequate knowledge, political pressures, and financing are as relevant today as they were in the 1800s. One interesting chart shows the drop in infant mortality rates from 1870 to 1930 correlated with the passage of major milk legislation.
Audience: This book could be of interest to historians and public health specialists, among others.
Features: The content is thorough, interesting, and well referenced, although the format and style of the book are somewhat difficult. It is more reminiscent of a well referenced thesis than a volume for wide distribution or leisure reading. Listings of footnotes on each page detract from the book's appearance.
Assessment: Professor Leavitt clearly has an excellent grasp of the dynamics of public health in Milwaukee during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If readers persevere, they will find this an informative historical review worth reading. It is an invaluable reference book.