Edwin Chadwick Public health

Sir Edwin Chadwick

Fun Facts:

  • Birth: Manchester, England on January 24, 1800
  • Death: Surrey, England on July 16, 1890
  • Chadwick was mainly self- educated
  • His father, James Chadwick, was a musician, politician, chemist, editor, and journalist, which inspired Edwin to become interested in journalism, (historylearningsite.co.uk).

Chadwick found inspiration in Jeremy Bentham, who had the idea of utilitarianism, meaning that changes should be made for the good of the greater amount of people (McKay 720). His father was also one of his major influences, encouraging him to read books written by radicals, (historylearningsite.co.uk).

Chadwick received his early education at Longsight and Stockport, but after being self- schooled, he studied in England to become a lawyer when he became more interested in the public health activists emerging at this time, (historylearningsite.co.uk).


  • Urgent need to improve living conditions of the poor, lack of public health was directly related to the lifestyles endured by the poor, noted that the laboring class could not labor as well as it could in an expanding industrial economy because of their poverty and poor health, therefore it was argued that the improved health of the poor would directly benefit the nation as a whole, (historylearningsite.co.uk).
  • Believed cheap iron pipes and tile drains would provide running water because the smell from communal outhouses was from unsanitary water, and it would be more economically efficient if it was carried out by running water and not by hand, (McKay 721).
  • Lord John Russell took power in the conservative government and passed a Public Health Act in 1848.
  • Chadwick was appointed Sanitation Commissioner and a new Central Board of Health was created with the powers to clean the streets and improve both the water and sanitation systems. Chadwick's ideas on how to improve the lifestyle of the poor were: a constant supply of fresh and clean water, toilets in homes, and a sewage system that would carry sewage from the cities out to rural areas where it could be treated.
  • One of his innovations was the use of glazed earthenware pipes for sewage, which reduced the possibility of contamination of drinking water. Shallow drinking wells were abolished and replaced by a mains water supply.

Chadwick presented his ideas to the world through his report, "The Sanitary Conditions of the Laboring Population," where over 7,000 copies were published to create awareness, and also through his recommendations to Parliament that made them create the "Poor Law Amendment Act" passed in 1834, (spartacus-educational.com).

In 1848, in a well-meaning attempt to rid poverty stricken areas of their filth in cesspools, he ordered the sewers of London to be flushed into the Thames (a river in the U.K.) This lead to extreme contamination of the Thames with over 20,000 cubic meters of sewage dumped into it from March to May of 1848 and over 50,000 cubic meters from September to February, 1848, (choleraandthethames.co.uk). Understandably, this caused people not to react well to Chadwick's ideas:

Children dying of pollution and sickness in the Thames

The ideas were viewed as inhumane, authoritarian, and over-centralized during this time. In 1854, he was attacked publicly in the House of Commons by Benjamin Hall. Hall called him "an unscrupulous and dangerous man, who had worked in the public service for years but had not provided any positive impact to the community." (choleraandthethames.co.uk).

During Chadwick's lifetime, his ideas were important because after Parliament passed the Public Health Act in 1848, Chadwick was appointed Sanitation Commissioner and passed laws including a constant supply of fresh clean water available, water closets in every house, and a system of carrying sewage to outlying farms, where it would provide a cheap source of fertilizer, (spartacus-educational.com).

Today, Chadwick's ideas are incredibly crucial to the everyday lives of modern people because of the health reforms that were made in Chadwick's era. Without his ideas, there wouldn't be:

  • bathrooms in every house
  • constant fresh water supplies
  • running water to eliminate waste
  • a main supply of water instead of shallow drinking wells, and
  • different houses/ more space for everyone, even poor people, (historylearningsite.co.uk).

Today, there might have still been epidemics of cholera, less clean water available, and increasing death rates due to disease if Chadwick hadn't taken a stand and spoken up about public health issues.

Works Cited:

"Edwin Chadwick." Edwin Chadwick. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

"Edwin Chadwick." History Learning Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

John Simkin. "Spartacus Educational." Spartacus Educational. Spartacus Educational, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

McKay, John P. "Taming the City." A History of Western Society since 1300 for AP. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2014. 720-21. Print.

"Science Museum. Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine." Edwin Chadwick (1800-90). N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.


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