Civil Rights / Cold War
CR Improving Health 03 Health Lab CR Improving Health 04 Vaccines CR Improving Health 05 Lifeguard CR Improving Health 001 Dental Health CR Suburban Improving Health 07 Polio CR Suburban Improving Health 08 Polio Vaccine CR Suburban Improving Health 09 Waiting in segregated lines CR Suburban 04 Sewers

Improving Health

Before World War II, Tennesseans feared catching diseases that could kill them. Paul Fox, who was born in Williamson County in 1921, said he remembered neighbors in the 1930s who would seem fine one week and then be dead the next week.
Before this time, people didn’t have access to many of the drugs we use today.  An injury or even impacted tooth could lead to a bacterial infection that could cause death.
Several important public health achievements after World War II had an impact on Tennesseans’ everyday lives. One of the most important was the development of antibiotics, which destroy disease-causing bacteria in the body. 
Alexander Fleming dis-cover-ed penicillin in the 1920s, but it was not widely used until the 1940s when researchers found a way to produce the active ingredient. Before this, simple cuts could become infected and lead to death.
Tuberculosis was another frightening disease. Germs were spread through the air.  The person sitting next to you on the bus could sneeze and you could breathe his germs. The disease attacked the lungs and other organs and usually resulted in death. In the 1940s, scientists dis-cover-ed medicines that could control the disease.
Insulin for diabetics wasn’t invented until the early 1920s. Before it was widely distributed, a diagnosis of diabetes was usually considered a death sentence. By the mid-1950s, manufacturing techniques made it possible to produce insulin in unlimited quantities. Diabetes was now considered a manageable disease.
Polio was another devastating disease. It was highly contagious, which means it could easily pass from person to person. Once inside the body, the virus attacked the brain and spinal cord. This could lead to muscle paralysis that would result in deformities of hips, ankles, and feet, and even death.  
People who could not breathe without help were sometimes placed in an iron lung for breathing assistance. This looked like a long metal tube. Sometimes patients would have to spend months or years in an iron lung.
A vaccine for polio was developed in 1955.  In Tennessee, parents and children stood in lines at schools and fire halls to receive the vaccine placed on a sugar cube. The vaccine is 99 percent effective in preventing polio.
A vaccine for mumps was available in the 1950s. The measles vaccine was developed in 1963. Before this, most children had to suffer through measles and mumps. Although usually not fatal, both diseases were uncomfortable. 
At the beginning of the 1900s, tooth decay was a significant problem. The U.S. Army, which only took young men, even had a requirement that recruits had to have six opposing teeth in order to enlist. Adding fluoride to water in 1962 helped reduce tooth decay in many Tennesseans. In 1966-1970, the number of cavities in 12-year-old children was reduced by 68 percent.
War on Poverty
Not all people had access to well-staffed, well-equipped hospitals. For example, Memphis blacks faced inadequate healthcare and lower life expectancy as late as 1962. Poor whites also didn't have access to good medical care. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty (WOP) programs brought decent healthcare to poor families and the elderly.  Another successful federal program was the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).  It was created to address poverty in Appalachian areas like East Tennessee. The ARC provided funding for highways, health facilities, sewage treatment plants, land conservation, and vocational schools. 
Head Start was a successful medical and education program for poor and physically and mentally challenged children. It provided programs for low income children through pre-school education, medical checkups, and free lunches. 
In Memphis student volunteers gathered medical data and provided medical treatment to thousands of poor children.  One Head Start participant in Tennessee, Darlene Y., received surgery for a lazy eye in 1970. “I’m pretty now,” Darlene said after seeing herself in the mirror after the procedure.
The federal government also set up Medicare -cover-age for the elderly in 1966. This program was a companion to Social Security. It provided health care insurance -cover-age to people ages 65 and older. Many elderly people who could not afford healthcare were able to visit doctors and have medical procedures under the program. 
In the late 1960s, another medical insurance program, Medicaid was passed by Congress to provide health care to poor people. This program helped bring down the infant mortality rates among poor mothers.

Picture Credits:
  • A little girl holds the mouth piece as a dentist takes an x-ray of her teeth in a mobile dental clinic in Nashville during the 1950s.  These mobile health units were housed in refitted trucks so they could stop at schools and other community locations.  Metro Nashville Archives
  • The state health department expanded its services during this time.  In this 1945 photograph, doctors work in the state health department lab.  TN Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
  • The use of vaccines increased from 1945 to 1975.  Here nurse Beverly Bates gives a shot to a patient at a state health facility. TN Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
  • While lifeguards were used in the early 1900s, widespread use of trained lifeguards didn't take place until the middle of the century.  The lifeguards association was formed in 1964.  Here a lifeguard watches swimmers at Warrior's Path State Park in 1969.  TN Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
  • Cities began a massive sewer program after World War II to remove water runoff and treat sewage.  Here, Nashville health department engineers study plans for sewer lines during the 1960s.  Behind them is a large sewer pipe that will be buried in the ground.  Metro Nashville Archives
  • Jackie Moore sits in his mother's lap as she adjusts his braces in 1959.  Moore had developed polio in 1958 after he had only had one of the Salk vaccine series of four shots.   Photo by Jimmy Ellis, courtesy of The Tennessean
  • A Nashville family takes the oral polio vaccine dropped on a sugar cube.  There were dates established in cities for people to come and take the vaccine.  This photograph was taken by Jimmy Ellis on October 6, 1963.  Courtesy of The Tennessean
  • Memphis children stand in segregated lines to get the free polio vaccine.  The line in front was whites only while black children stood in the back line.  They went into separate entrances of the building.  Courtesy of the Memphis Commercial Appeal

   Civil Rights / Cold War >>  Everyday Life >>  How They Lived >>  Improving Health

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