Family Health Advice From The 1950s

Shutterstock / Golden Dayz © family health encyclopaedia

A few weeks ago, we discovered that my grandparents owned a family health encyclopaedia from the 1950s. It’s titled, “Newnes Family Health Encyclopaedia”.

It’s an A-Z of ailments and medicines with symptoms, treatments and causes.

The author states the purpose of the book in the introduction.

“This book has been compiled with the object of providing an essential Guide to Good Health for the home and for the individual; it is also a quick reference book when some accident or emergency occurs in connection with the physical well-being of any member of the household.”

A snapshot of medicine at the time

We flicked through and admittedly had a bit of a laugh at some of the outdated terminology and ideas. But when we read more deeply, we realised it’s an amazing shapshot of health and medicine at the time.

The author promises that “the great discoveries in recent times of such life-saving aids as penicillin and the sulpha drugs have been fully covered.”

In fact there’s a whole supplemental section which goes into great detail on the discovery and development of penicillin. It was extremely fascinating to read, particularly the fight to develop the antibiotics quickly to aid soldiers in WWII.

In the section, “Recent Developments in Medicine and Surgery”, the author lists, among others, the first synthetically produced antibiotic, cortisone, radio-active drugs, Vitamin B12 and the effects of the atomic bomb.

Advice from another era

The book also provides general life and health advice in the supplementary sections. These include “Love and Marriage”, “Slimming With Safety”, “The Balanced Personality”, “Overcoming Inferiority” and “Self-Expression”.

In these sections, the author emphasised the importance of looking after your mind as well as your body.

A lot of the advice provided by the author was surprisingly relevant to today.

The stresses were eerily similar, too:

“Our modern civilisation makes stringent and exacting demands upon us all. It is a highly competitive age demanding intellectual efficiency and some toughness of mental fibre. The prizes are not easily won. The tempo of life has increased. We ask more from life and life asks more from us. Our pleasures and entertainments tend to be sophisticated and mass-produced.”

Perhaps every generation has felt the same.

The National Health Service

The last section is all about getting the most out of the brand new National Health Service. The author wrote that it “must be regarded as one of the great social experiments of our times.”

The final line reads, “There can be little doubt that the present pioneer efforts will provide a rich reward in national health and happiness in the future.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.