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July 20, 2012 | Written by: Annette Cambareri

A Look Back: Health and Wellness 100 Years Ago



With all the successful miniseries on public television set during pre-WWI, viewers never seem to get enough of the comings and goings of daily life during the Edwardian period.

Interest in this era is nothing new, lest we forget the obsession with the ocean liner, Titanic, and the numerous documentaries that chronicle why and how the doomed ship sank.

What is it about this time period that we find so engaging? Maybe it’s that it echoes a society that’s vaguely familiar to ours, but at the same time radically different.

Or possibly, it’s because it represents the birth of modern life as we know today. After all, it’s an era when industrial advancements led to a faster, more automated approach to living—embracing innovations on everything from manufacturing and food production to hygiene and medicine.

What wellness meant in 1912.

When thinking about health in America during this time, a few images come to mind. The most ubiquitous is the spectacled traveling charlatan, hawking an elixir that claimed to cure a wide range of ills. These so-called wonder drugs, of course, could be marketed then without regulation and warning of dangerous side effects.

Another is the strange metal contraptions with levers, screws and pulleys that people purchased from black and white catalogs to supposedly make a bum leg or deficient spine right again.

On the heels of the marvels of electricity, telephones and automobiles, people tended to believe that barrier-breaking invention could work magic. They naively looked to medicine to be a part of that modern magic to quickly cure their various ills.

Nevertheless, not all attitudes towards enhancing one’s health were based on pure fantasy. Preventative and integrated treatments were also a crucial part of the wellness paradigm. As in today, emphasis was placed on individual responsibility to take charge of one’s overall personal well-being.

Embracing home remedies and homeopathic medicine.

One hundred years ago, home remedies were extremely common and about 15% of American doctors practiced some form of homeopathic medicine.

In order to enhance health, wealthy people at the time visited sanitariums, which were resort-like facilities where individuals went through various treatments such as sulfuric baths, electric shock therapies, calisthenics and special diets.

Part spa, part hospital and part gym, these sanitariums promised cures of all sorts. While some treatments were dangerous and later proven to be ineffective, the thread that links the present to this moment in the past is the idea that personal attention and initiative results in better health.

This awareness isn’t any less important for us in 2012. Today, our stress-filled, technology-driven lives hunger for rejuvenation and balance. And while we don’t rely on cure-alls the way we did in 1912, we can still draw upon wisdom of the past to help us responsibly move towards healthier minds and bodies.

About the author
Annette Cambareri
Annette is a Junior Copywriter at SSW. Her wellness pledge is to give more back to the world through expression, compassion and creativity.



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