We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Healthiest City

Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform

Judith W. Leavitt

Publication Year: 1996

Between 1850 and 1900, Milwaukee’s rapid population growth also gave rise to high death rates, infectious diseases, crowded housing, filthy streets, inadequate water supplies, and incredible stench. The Healthiest City shows how a coalition of reform groups brought about community education and municipal action to achieve for Milwaukee the title of “the healthiest city” by the 1930s. This highly praised book reminds us that cutting funds and regulations for preserving public health results in inconvenience, illness, and even death.
    “A major work. . . . Leavitt focuses on three illustrative issues—smallpox, garbage, and milk, representing the larger areas of infectious disease, sanitation, and food control.”—Norman Gevitz, Journal of the American Medical Association
    “Leavitt’s research provides additional evidence . . . that improvements in sanitation, living conditions, and diet contributed more to the overall decline in mortality rates than advances in medical practice. . . . A solid contribution to the history of urban reform politics and public health.”—Jo Ann Carrigan, Journal of American History

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (158.1 KB)
pp. i-v


pdf iconDownload PDF (76.8 KB)
pp. vii

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (201.3 KB)
pp. ix-x

List of Tables

pdf iconDownload PDF (97.1 KB)
pp. xi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (889.3 KB)
pp. xiii-xvii

"Death in our drink," warned the Milwaukee newspaper editors advising citizens of danger in their drinking water.1 This sounds like a quotation from a newspaper during the city's cryptosporidiosis outbreak in 1993, but the year was 1879. Five years earlier, Milwaukee had proudly...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (454.8 KB)
pp. xix-xxi

It is a pleasure for me to be able to thank all the people who have helped me while I worked on this book. My study of public health in Milwaukee originated as a doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Richard C. Wade, Lester S. King, and Arthur Mann. I...


pdf iconDownload PDF (154.8 KB)
pp. xxiii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 3-9

During the last third of the nineteenth century Milwaukee seemed unlikely ever to earn a national reputation as the healthiest city in America. Rapid population growth and expanding industrialization overwhelmed the city and created an environment characterized by overcrowding, pollution...

read more

CHAPTER ONE- Milwaukee: The City and Its Health Problems

pdf iconDownload PDF (6.5 MB)
pp. 10-41

From the beginning Milwaukee promised health and prosperity. Situated at the confluence of three rivers and Lake Michigan, the city held what many interpreted to be the key to western settlement: a face to the East and a route to the West. Already an active American Indian trading...

read more

CHAPTER TWO- The City Health Department

pdf iconDownload PDF (7.8 MB)
pp. 42-73

Milwaukee always made some provision for its sick poor. In the years before the establishment of the permanent board of health in 1867, the city supplied physicians to the almshouse or to the local hospital to care for poor city residents. In times of epidemics it created temporary boards...

read more

CHAPTER THREE- The Politics of Health Reform: Smallpox

pdf iconDownload PDF (10.3 MB)
pp. 76-121

Health Commissioner Walter Kempster took time from his efforts combating a raging smallpox epidemic in Milwaukee in 1894 to reflect on the public's fearful reactions to this disease. "[T]he alarm caused by a few cases of smallpox," he noticed, "has served to unbalance the equanimity...

read more

CHAPTER FOUR- The Politics of Health Reform: Garbage

pdf iconDownload PDF (7.5 MB)
pp. 122-155

One winter morning in 1892 Milwaukee resident James Holton stumbled out of bed and turned on his water faucet. Out came "very dark-colored" material filled with "a large number of brown and green globules of gelatine-like substance." Waking up faster than he might have otherwise...

read more

CHAPTER FIVE- The Politics of Health Reform: Milk

pdf iconDownload PDF (7.7 MB)
pp. 156-189

"Milk, as secreted by the healthy cow, is the purest food we know," said Health Commissioner F. A. Kraft in 1911. But, Kraft continued in his remarks during a health department campaign to improve the city's milk supply, "It is man who soils and befouls and contaminates."1 The health official well knew that much of the milk that Milwaukeeans...

read more

CHAPTER SIX- The Volunteers

pdf iconDownload PDF (5.4 MB)
pp. 190-213

During the nineteenth century, while the health department attacked the major public health problems of infectious diseases, poor sanitation, and tainted food, individual Milwaukeeans continued to face health crises of smaller proportions. When they fell sick, many residents turned not to the health department but to private associations, which...

read more

CHAPTER SEVEN- The Healthiest City

pdf iconDownload PDF (6.1 MB)
pp. 214-239

When Health Commissioner John P. Koehler accepted the large bronze plaque commemorating Milwaukee's top place in the Class I division of the first annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Public Health Association Health Conservation Contest in 1930, he did so on behalf of his fellow workers in the city health department and also...

read more

CHAPTER EIGHT- The Process of Change

pdf iconDownload PDF (5.6 MB)
pp. 240-264

The Milwaukee health department metamorphosed from a one-person, limited-budget operation to a professional, fully staffed organization in the sixty years following its creation in 1867. In the process of meeting the disease challenges of the rapidly expanding nineteenth-century city, health officers developed a clear vision of their purpose...

Chronological Outline of Public Health History in Milwaukee

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 265-273

Essay on the Sources

pdf iconDownload PDF (967.0 KB)
pp. 275-279


pdf iconDownload PDF (3.2 MB)
pp. 281-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780299151638
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299151645

Publication Year: 1996