By Megan Mackrell
Public Health in the 19th Century was non-existent. Poverty, disease and overcrowding was rife. It was Edwin Chadwick that brought about the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834.
He had argued that illness and disease were strongly linked to poverty and if steps were taken to reduce illness and disease then rates of poverty would subside also, as more people would be fit to work. The Poor Law Amendment Act seen that proper sewage and drainage systems were put in place and a Medical Officer was placed in the Workhouses so that workers could get health care if they were working.
Edwin Chadwick was a believer in the 'miasma' theory, he believed that illness and disease was airborne. Therefore, overcrowded houses and polluted cities were more likely to be rife with disease. This was generally a very popular theory.
One sceptic in the 'miasma' theory was John Snow. He published a book in 1849 suggesting that cholera enters the body through the mouth, it is not airborne, as many people thought. In 1854 there was a large outbreak in cholera in Soho, this was following several years of cholera outbreaks. John Snow investigated the case and was able to prove his theory right when he discovered that the outbreak was down to polluted water coming from the pump on Broad Street. He did this by comparing mortality rates in different areas, referenced his findings with what people used the Broad Street pump against those using other water pumps and plotting a map of his findings. He was able to take his discovery to his local council and have the handle of the pump removed. From then, the rates of cholera in that area dramatically declined, proving his theory right.
After Edwin Chadwick’s Poor Law Amendment Act, a Medical Officer called John Simon was placed in London. John Simon had no experience in public health, as he was a private doctor. After seeing the extent of poverty and disease in London he used his diplomatic and political