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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview > Lesson 7

Lesson 7
Nurturing Physical and Spiritual Health at the Turn of the 20th century

Physical health became an important topic during the turn of the 20th century. More was being learned about how the human body functioned. People were studying the effects of adverse stresses. Emphasis on the importance of eating the right foods and exercising to improve physical health, led to a number of innovations. Health foods such as Graham crackers and Ovaltine were developed. Forms of exercise such as boxing and playing with Indian clubs were used to achieve good health and to develop a desirable form.

Cleanliness and good sanitation were seen as means of disease prevention, leading to a number of inventions such as the carpet sweeper and the bathroom commode. Many tonics and elixirs were developed and used to ease or even cure health problems.

Fresh air was seen as essential to good health and thought to be a cure for diseases such as tuberculosis. Sleeping in the fresh air, even in winter, was thought to promote good health. B.F. Skinner developed the "fresh air box" for infants. Urbanites who lived among the polluting factories sought out the undeveloped countryside for respite. Mountain houses, health spas and entertainment parks were developed to lure city dwellers into the healthful mountain air. Travel to rural areas for picnics, swimming, and camping, all while enjoying the country views, was a new pastime. This new recreation was not reserved for the wealthy. Factory workers were not confined to the workplace the way agricultural workers were. There was leisure time to travel and explore their growing world.

New understandings about the physical world were being developed. The unseen forces of electricity and magnetism held a new fascination. This captivating interest became part of a movement called "spiritualism." One of the tenets of this movement, which was large and countrywide, included the belief the one could communicate with the spirits of the deceased. People would stand or sit in a circle, joining hands to allow the combined power to "call up" the spirits from "beyond the pale."


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