In Elizabethan times, living conditions of an everyday townsman was quite indecent. Elizabethan’s lived in houses that were extremely close to one another, which made it quite easy to disregard such a necessity to keep the streets and living surroundings clean.
People threw all of the waste outside of their windows, which included, their feces, dead cats and dogs, and also kitchen waste. Eventually, when it would rain, the rain would wash all of the rancid waste into local waters. There were “regulations against people washing clothes in or near waters used for drink, or against washing the entrails of beasts after slaughter”(Rowse 156). “…it is evident from innumerable documents how frequently they were broken” (Rowse 156). As long as people lived in small groups, isolated from each other, there were not many incidents of widespread disease. But as civilization progressed, people began clustering into cities. As the cities grew and became crowded, they also became the nesting places of water-borne, insect-borne, and skin-to-skin infectious diseases. The Elizabethans shared communal water, handled unwashed food, stepped in excrement from casual discharge of manure, and used urine for dyes, bleaches, and even treatment of wounds.
As A.L. Rowse mentions, “many of the citizens possessed chamber pots, usually made of tin, or close stools.” The close stools were put in the cockloft, the sleeping quarters of the Elizabethans. This would obviously reek of horrible odors and force the townsmen to dump them as soon as possible into the slimy cobblestone streets.
Many rats and rodents flocked to the littered streets, finding morsels of anything that would satisfy their hunger. This is where the transportation of the plague would come to play. As the rodents feasted on the waste, the plague-infested fleas would jump to the nearest passerby. “The most devastating to England was the bubonic plague. Also known as, “"The Black Death", because of the black spots it produced on the skin. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and medieval medicine had nothing to combat it”(Rice). London was afflicted over a dozen times during the 1500’s (Miller and Orr)”. Winters were usually mild, allowing the rats and rodents, which carried fleas to stay active throughout the winter months.
“Typhus fever is another disease born of bad sanitation. It is also known as, "jail fever" or "ship fever," because it was so common among men held captive in such putrid surroundings. The disease was highly contagious and usually transmitted through human feces and lice that infested the unclean bodies of the Elizabethans.
Click here to unlock this and over one million essaysShow More
A law was made, saying that once someone was ill with the plague they were to stay in their house. Anyone who happened to live in the same house as the unfortunate soul was also locked in, with fear that they could spread the disease. Beggars were not allowed to wonder the streets at anytime, and were executed immediately for doing so without a given reason. All of these, although sensible ideas (apart from the execution..) would not contribute towards public health, as the disease was not contagious in the human community. It was in fact passed on from fleas living on black rats, but this knowledge had not yet been developed.
At this time however, cold weather and rains wiped out many crops creating a shortage of food for humans. Rats also went through this shortage in food. This made them “crowd in cities, providing an optimal environment for disease”(Karin Lehnardt in 41 Catastrophic Facts about the Black Death). Before the black death spread through Europe, sanitation wasn’t very good. Living conditions were bad so when the black death came to Europe, it spread more rapidly because people were not clean and healthy. Another reason the plague spread so fast was because the dead “bodies were piled up inside and outside city walls where they lay until mass graves could be dug”(Karin Lehnardt in 41 Catastrophic Facts about the Black Death). This made the air very polluted and contributed the spread of the epidemic. In total, the black death killed about thirty million people. This was about one-third the population of Europe. Some towns were completely wiped out. Because of this, medieval people thought everyone would eventually die, although we now know that some populations did survive. Also, because people were not being saved by the church, their beliefs were questioned. Less people dedicated their lives to the church because of this. Both the poor and the rich died but more than one-half the people dead were poor. This was also a result of poor sanitation and living conditions. The Black Death initiated in China in the early 1340’s
In 1347, Europe began to perceive what the Plague had in store. Terrible outcomes arose when the citizens caught the Plague from fleas. The transfer of fleas to humans caused the outbreak of the Black Death. Infections that rodents caught were passed on to fleas, which would find a host to bite, spreading the terrible disease (“Plague the Black Death” n.pag.). When Genoese ships arrived back to Europe from China, with dead sailors and...
Most of the diseases spread fast within the tenement walls due to the close proximities. Usually the diseased tenants did not live long, and spread plague throughout other city blocks. This led to a citizen movement that resulted in the organization of the Board of Health. The Health Department educated the people more than giving them help. Eventually they ordered tenements to be ventilated with air shafts and ordered windows to be installed. Over time it led to the decline and extinction of the "dark room".
Although more prevalent amongst the working class, tuberculosis and typhus fever were contracted by all populations in Victorian England. People of the upper and middle classes could afford treatment while the poor were often subjected to unsanitary, disease-ridden living conditions. Charity schools were common places of infection due to inedible food and a vulnerability to contagion, i.e., the necessity of sharing beds and drinking from a common cup. F.B. Smith confirms the increased likelihood of disease within charity schools in his book The Retreat of Tuberculosis. He states "Charity school children displayed above average rates (of tuberculosis) even though the badly affected individuals usually were excluded" (7). Tuberculosis and typhus fever outbreaks, increased significantly in the nineteenth century due to overcrowding, poor housing conditions, low wages and standards of nutrition, ignorance, and lack of effective medical treatment.
Doctors believed the human body was part of the universe, so they used elements for each humour, “Yellow bile was the equivalent of fire. Phlegm was the equivalent of water. Black bile was the equivalent of earth and blood was the equivalent of air”(“Shakespearean and Elizabethan Medicine”). Also, because of their beliefs and lack of knowledge on serious medical conditions, most severe cases were not treated accurately. Some doctors believed if a person broke a bone, then it was never supposed to be used again because the accident was based from many sins of the soul (“Shakespearean and Elizabethan Medicine”). The doctors also believed in completely covering their body when treating a patient. It was thought that if they wore boots, gloves, masks and robes, then they would be protected from the diseases. They also wore an amulet around their waste, filled with dried blood and ground up toads (Alchin). Although this may seem out of the ordinary today, these precautions were something an Elizabethan doctor did not go
While poor drainage and waste disposal procedures can be seen as a direct result of fever and epidemic; it is important first to look at the dietary practices of the working classes which would greatly contribute to their squalid living conditions.
With such a rapid mortality rate the epidemic lead to many adversities within the various social structures throughout the western world. All social classes were affected, although the lower classes, living together in unhygienic environments, were obviously most vulnerable. Consequently, many medieval people began to isolate themselves away out of fear of infection. Parents fled from their children, husbands left wives, and sick relatives were d...
The filth of the cities promoted the spread of disease faster than doctors could discover a cure. This encouraged large outbreaks of many deadly diseases. And it is said that throughout this period there were people who went about the cities and towns with wagons calling "Bring out your dead!" in a fashion similar to that of the Medieval era during the bubonic plague (Which, by the way, was not yet a dead disease).
By the 1840’s high rates of disease were ascribed to the housing many of New York’s poverty-stricken immigrants lived in. Fear spread that while disease was rooted in the polluted living conditions of New York’s poorer communities, disease could easily spread to the more well off citizens too. Public health officials realized that the city’s soiled streets and polluted sewers were a health risk to all New Yorkers. In the mid-nineteenth century, New York possessed a primitive sewage system. Poorly planned sewers spanned the city, but most citizens’ homes did not connect to these pipes. Instead, most New Yorkers relied on outdoor outhouses and privies. Because of the high levels of unmanaged waste, epidemics of infectious diseases were commonplace in New York. The city battled outbreaks of smallpox, typhoid, malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and tuberculosis. In 1849, a rash of cholera struck the city, killing more than five thousand people. A wave of typhoid in the mid-1860’s resulted in a similar amount of deaths. Port cities and transportation hubs, like New York, were especially prone to outbursts of infectious diseases because of the high volume of travelers that passed through the city. Americans realized that they were contracting and dying from infectious diseases at an alarming rate, but weren’t entirely sure of why or how. (Web, par. 17,
Sanitary conditions in the West were practically non-existent. In the cities, horse manure covered the streets. Housewives emptied garbage, dishwater, and chamber pots into the middle of the city streets where free-roaming pigs devoured the waste. The pigs left their urine and feces on the streets. It was not easy to wash clothes. Many people had clothes splattered with manure, mud, sweat, and tobacco juice. Privies, or necessary houses were often to close to the homes with a very noticeable odor on hot and/or windy days. If a family had a kitchen, all the members washed at the sink each day, without soap, rubbing the dirt off with a coarse towel. Eventually, many cold bedrooms had a basin, ewer (pitcher), cup, and cupboard chamber pot. Bed bugs and fleas covered many of the travelers’ beds. “Isaac Weld saw filthy beds swarming with bugs.” These insects followed the travelers, crawling on their clothes and skin.
The Black Death started in China in 1331; it was then carried across the Asian caravan to southern Russia on merchant ships. In 1347, ships brought it to Italy. It then steadily spread throughout the rest of Europe. The bacteria,Yersinia Pestis, that caused the disease was carried in the stomach of a flea that lived on black rats or other small rodents. The Black Death is formally known as the Bubonic Plague, although there was three more variations of the Black Death, the Bubonic was the most prominent during these times. The living conditions of this time made it perfect breeding grounds for the rats, the streets were narrow, and filled with garbage, mud and human excrement. There was also a shortage in housing, causing six to eight people sleeping in one bed; this was a true fact for aristocratic families too. Personal hygiene was a problem too, water was contaminated so few people bathed, these conditions led to people being sick many having diarrhea which lowered people’s resistance to the disease.
The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, depicts the rise and spread of cholera in Victorian London. Cholera is a bacterial water-borne disease that has existed for centuries but has only recently become destructive as human populations have become more dense in unclean urban areas. The 1854 epidemic can be traced to the unfortunate day Sarah Lewis, a mother of a sick child, unknowingly ignited the crisis when she disposed of her infants diapers into a cesspool resulting in the fecal contamination of the area’s water supply. Although the treatment for cholera is fairly simple and consists primarily of maintaining hydration (clean water), the lack of medical knowledge in the Victorian era resulted in the creation and advertisement of many false cures
The health and safety standards of the time were not ready for the massive amount of people pouring into the cities. Cities didn’t have sewers, street cleaners, regulations on pollution, or people picking up after horses. The horses were an especially big problem. In New York in 1890, horses would leave half a million pounds of manure on the streets every day. This would run into the rivers, where people got their water. This led to contaminated water which made people sick, especially in poor areas. In poor areas, the contaminated water combined with rampant bugs, insects, and rodents caused the spread of many diseases. Diseases were spread easily because people lived in such close proximity to each other. The amount of migration in the cities forced people to live in cramped
The Black Death is now known to be spread by a flea. However, this flea was not the cause as it was the bacterium which lay in the stomach of the flea. This bacterium’s scientific name is Yersinia pestis. The main host of the flea is a rat, scientifically called Rattus rattus. Humans caught the disease because when the rats bred rapidly, it would lead to a population invasion. When the rat died, the flea would have to find another warm-blooded host to feed on, and next to them are humans. The flea bites the human and infects them. The unhygienic living conditions in the Middle Ages led to a faster spread of the disease, as a result creating a better environment for rats to live in. The lack of knowledge in the fourteenth century led to even worse remedies.