In the 1800’s medicine was being revolutionised; people were discovering the causes of germs and others were creating solutions for them. However at the start of the century the streets of London were filthy, the poor were becoming ill and doctors could only be afforded by the rich. If a disease was caught by one family member the chances of everyone in the household getting the same infection was very high. In the cholera epidemic of 1831 – 1832, 7000 people died; nearly a 50% death rate of those who caught it.
Not only was the death rate so high, but cholera was spreading to the rich areas of London and wealthy powerful people were dying. The government realised something had to be done, and changes were made. Many people played a part in transforming London, two of these were, Edwin Chadwick; a civil servant, and Louis Pasteur: a French scientist. Both helped to change the way people looked at medicine and dealt with their health, but in very different ways.
Edwin Chadwick was employed by the Poor Law Commission (PLC) in the 1830’s. The PLC overlooked the amount of money the poor were receiving out of the local taxes and asked Chadwick to report on the living conditions and health of the poor in both town and country areas. The reason being, the poor were becoming ill meaning they worked less and the rich gained less money, putting taxes down and less money going back to the poor for support with medical costs. The vicious circle had been noticed by the PLC as they saw less money being transferred to the poor.
In 1842 Chadwick completed his report and came up with an answer as to how the poor could become healthier and in the long run save the rich from paying too much money. He would improve drainage and sewers, remove rubbish from the streets, provide clean water supplies and appoint a medical officer of health to check the reforms.
Although his method of making to poor healthier was great, neither the poor nor the rich wanted it enforced; the poor didn’t want Chadwick telling them how to live and the rich didn’t want to pay for it.
The government listened to Chadwick’s ideas and liked them, until they realised the cost of reforming the whole of London, let alone the rest of England would cost far too much. After six years of deliberation the government passed a Public Health Act, stating councils were encouraged to make reforms, but they didn’t have to if the rich didn’t want to pay for them. In total 3 local councils enforce the rule and had cleaner public health and lower death rates.
It wasn’t until the second and third cholera outbreaks in 1854 and 1865 that the government finally accepted Chadwick’s ideas and in 1875 passed a second Public Health Act forcing local governments to raise taxes and introduce Chadwick’s method.
Overall Chadwick wasn’t very good at standing up for his methods, he just allowed people to turn them down and ignore them until they finally mattered. His theory was also created after looking at John Snow’s research on cholera, so it wasn’t completely his idea and he was paid to research it, he didn’t discover something was wrong on his own account; he was employed to do so. However his method did actually work and once people began to use it the poor became healthier and were soon back to work.
The other man involved in the revolution in London was Louis Pasteur. Pasteur became interested in germs when a new microscope allowed him to look closely and study the behaviour of the micro-organisms. He was then asked by a brewing company to take a look at their beer; the company were wondering why the beer was going off and not staying fresh. Pasteur soon discovered that a particular micro-organism was growing rapidly in the liquid and showed the brewers how to stop this by boiling the beer.
He then became well known in France and his ideas were then called upon by many industries where he discovered that micro-organisms were the cause of wine, beer and vinegar fermentation and milk going sour. Pasteur was determined to prove why this happened and entered a competition set up by the French Academy of Science to either prove or disprove the Spontaneous generation theorem. He succeeded using an experiment he created himself and created a new theorem called the germ theory.
Pasteur was quite happy to prove his experiment to anyone who disbelieved it; he came up in a competition with Pouchet, another French scientist where once again he devised his own experiments to prove a total of four theories.
In the next stages of his career Pasteur managed to link micro-organisms to disease, when the silk industry discovered many of its silkworms had been struck down with disease. As with the beer, Pasteur managed to find a link between a specific micro-organism and the disease and showed the factory owners how to solve the problem.
Although Pasteur had managed to prove the link between micro-organisms ad disease, he wasn’t a doctor and was unable to link them to human disease, that came to a doctor named Robert Koch. Pasteur however was unhappy that Koch used his theory to become great himself and tried to create cures for diseases as well.
Overall I think Pasteur was willing to stand up for his methods when they were challenged and when he didn’t approve of someone else using his methods for their own personal greatness, he tried to compete with them. However, like Chadwick, Pasteur was asked to look into something, he didn’t come across it on his own. Although he did create the theory himself and then went on to develop it.
After judging both men on their achievements and the amount of lives they saved in the long run, I believe that Pasteur made a greater contribution to medicine than Chadwick. However the effect Chadwick had on the London society in the 1800’s was phenomenal as he completely changed people’s attitudes to cleanliness and general health.
I think both men deserve acknowledgement for the changes the made to the world of science and medicine, but Pasteur did develop his ideas singlehandedly and then went on to create and prove many new theories about germs and their spread. He was also not afraid to stand up for his ideas when they were challenged whereas Chadwick allowed people to brush off his ideas and only use them when they desperately needed them.