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PHYSICAL DETERIORATION IN ENGLAND.
DURING the progress of the South African War serious statements were made in military circles as to the physical deterioration manifested in the large number of volunteers rejected as unfit for active service. In Manchester, out of 12,000 would-be recruits, 8,000 were rejected as virtually invalids, and only 1,200 could be regarded as fit in all respects. Happening, too, at a time when the standard of requirement was the lowest since the battle of Waterloo, and when the country was engaged in a serious war, these statements aroused public attention. When Gen.
Sir Frederick Maurice declared that, according to the best evidence he could obtain, it was the fact that for many years out of every five recruits only two were found physically fit after two years' service, the Government appointed a departmental committee to inquire into the whole subject of physical deterioration among the masses. It was, indeed, a startling fact that 60 per cent of the men offering themselves for active service were physically unfit. Sir Lauder Brunton, of Saint Bartholomew's Hospital, an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and correspondent of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, in his evidence before the committee, said:
Poor in physique as they all are, and poor in mental capacity and power of application as many of them must be, they probably marry girls as weak as themselves, and have children, some of whom go to swell the lists of infant mortality, some to join the criminal classes, while others grow up more weak and incompetent than their parents.
If unfit for soldiers, what are they fit for? The answer as given is not reassuring. We find, from the recruiting returns for the year 1900, that, out of 52,022 laborers, husbandmen, and servants who offered themselves, 15,025 were rejected, or 288 per thousand. Out of 11,971 manufacturing artisans, 290 per thousand were found physically unfit; and, worst of all, in the occupations most favorable to physical development, such as smiths, masons, and carpenters, 260 per thousand were set aside by the medical examiners. The highest percentage of rejections was reached in the case of clerks and shopmen desirous of joining the colors,
306.89 per thousand being the number. Now what was the standard set up? Height, 5 feet 2 inches; chest measurement, 33 inches!
During the ten years 1893-1902, as many as 679,703 recruits were medically examined. Of these, 234,914 were rejected at once, 5,849 after three months, and 14,259 after less than two years' service. These official admissions are intensified by the statement of Sir William Taylor, director-general, Army Medical Service, that "this percentage of rejections does not, however, represent the whole extent of the physical unfitness existing among men wishing to become soldiers." He refers to the numbers rejected by recruiting sergeants, and consequently never coming within reach of the stethoscope.
To appraise these figures at their real value we must now examine the grounds of rejection. Under the heading of chest measurement, the rejections range, during the decennial period named, from 49.88 to 139.64 per thousand.
The Rev. Mr. Rees, chairman of the Anthropometric Committee of the late Salford School Board, says that, in 1845, of the soldiers measured 47 per cent were between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 8 inches in height, and that in 1889 out of every thousand 481 were less than 5 feet 7 inches. This gentleman attributes most of the evil to the want of fresh air consequent upon overcrowding, and instances, in evidence of the importance of this condition, the Kerry men, who, although notoriously badly fed, are the tallest men in Ireland.
It is well to point out at this stage that it does not at all follow that these results would be the same in a medical examination of every thousand of the population; but, as the class which recruits the army is exclusively the laboring population, the evil is a serious and a growing one. This is proved by the report of the inspector-general in the year 1902, where he says that "the one subject which causes anxiety in the future is the gradual deterioration of the physique of the working classes from whom the bulk of the recruits must always be drawn."
The Royal Colleges of Surgeons and Physicians answered the committee's inquiry by saying that the director-general's statements were inadequate to prove that physical deterioration had affected the class referred to, but added that we had not sufficient data to warrant any definite conclusions by comparison with past times. To this one may
answer that, comparison or no comparison, a dreadful state of affairs is revealed which these learned bodies cannot explain away. Statistics collected by the British Association during the years 1878-83 were put in as evidence, and, though not accepted as conclusive, produced one stern proof of physical degeneration among the laboring classes. The average stature of boys between eleven and twelve attending the public schools (in the English sense of that term), boys belonging to the wellto-do classes, was 54.98 inches as against 50.02 in the industrial schools. One witness, who has had an intimate acquaintance with the rural life of the country, unhesitatingly declared that the rural schoolchildren compared very unfavorably as regards physique with the schoolchildren of thirty or forty years ago, and went on to express her conviction that physical degeneration had set in.
Progressive degeneracy is reported by the committee as unproved, though the bulk of the witnesses, medical men for the most part, suggested that it had set in. Sir Lauder Brunton said that, in certain classes, progressive improvement had set in; but he thought it highly probable that there was a larger proportion of physical insufficiency than at previous times. Mr. Charles Booth, the well-known author of "Life and Labor in London," had no doubt that conditions unfavorable to the health of the community were growing in amount in connection with the increase of urban conditions of life.
Passing to the recruits for the navy and marine services, it must be noted that, as a rule, they are drawn from a better class. No illiterates are accepted, and from artificers skill in their trade is required, with a knowledge of arithmetic. Under these conditions, of 14,848 candidates who had satisfied the recruiting officers as to height and chest measurements, during the year 1902-03, no less than 25 per cent were rejected as unfit by the doctors, as against 23 for the army; and in the three years, 1900-03, of 21,916 examined in London for the navy, 32 per cent were rejected. This is not a pleasant fact for the mistress of the seas, and the recommendations of the committee go to show how deeply its members were impressed by the evidence produced.
Underfeeding is the great difficulty, the initial difficulty, coupled with improper feeding, in the case of children of the working classes. So dreadful were the statements made by responsible witnesses that this strongly individualist nation is face to face with the recommendation "that definite provision should be made by the various local authorities for dealing with the question of underfed children." On all hands there is a demand that the school children, with suitable safeguards against
economic abuse, should be fed. Even a late member of the present Conservative ministry is taking a leading part in the agitation to secure the adoption of the recommendation of the departmental committee. We feed at present all children under poor-law management, all those in reformatory, industrial, day industrial, and special schools. These are the neglected ones whom the state has taken away from bad, vicious, drunken, careless parents. Why it should refuse to feed the children whose parents are not necessarily members of these classes, only a country of compromises can understand.
What is the case for feeding, and what evidence have we that want of food is answerable for the physical degeneracy prevalent? Ninety per cent of the children of the poor are born healthy! The professor of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh, in his evidence, asserted:
There is a mean physical standard which is the inheritance of the people as a whole, and, no matter how far certain sections of the people may deviate from this by deterioration, the tendency of the race as a whole will always be to maintain the inherited mean. In other words, these inferior bodily characters, which are the result of poverty (and not vice, such as syphilis and alcoholism), and which are therefore acquired during the lifetime of the individual, are not transmissible from one generation to another. To restore, therefore, the class in which this inferiority exists to the mean standard of national physique, all that is required is to improve the conditions of living, and in one or two generations all the ground that has been lost will be recovered.
Here is a decidedly encouraging statement to spur on the new educational authorities to provide nourishing food for their young charges, and also to make such changes in school curricula as will teach girls the values of food rather than the rivers of Europe, the rules (if any) governing the subjunctive mood, or the intricacies of algebra.
Take Dr. Eickholz, the medical inspector of all the special schools in the country, as a witness. Last June I had the melancholy pleasure of visiting, under his direction, an area seven minutes' walk from the Houses of Parliament, and saw ample evidences of degenerate children - degenerate because starved. Here is a luridly descriptive picture of how the children in this area are fed:
Their breakfasts are nominally bread and tea, and the dinner nothing but what a copper can purchase at the local fried-fish shops, where the most inferior kinds of fish are fried in reeking cotton-seed oil, and this often supplemented by rotten fruit collected beneath costers' barrows.
Absence of milk and meat is, according to this same witness, another factor in promoting physical degeneration, which is aided effectually by the stewed tea at the morning and evening meals; indeed, in most cases
at dinner as well. In one of the special schools in Liverpool for mentally defective children, I have seen a mother create a disturbance because a horrible decoction of stewed tea and an indigestible bun were set on one side. Her afflicted child, accustomed to this diet, declined for weeks to eat the specially prepared meal of excellent fish, rice, and milk pudding. I may add, in passing, as chairman of the Special Schools Committee, that when the teacher had succeeded in breaking down the child's prejudice, a marked improvement in mental as well as physical health resulted.
In the Johanna Street Schools, Lambeth, London, the medical gentleman mentioned above made a special examination, and reported that 90 per cent were unable, by reason of their physical condition, to attend to their lessons, and that, from October to March, 33 per cent must be fed by voluntary agencies. Having unrivalled opportunities of securing reliable figures, he stated that, in the London schools, 122,000 children were decidedly underfed 16 per cent of the children of that vast gathering of human beings which constitutes England's wonderful metropolis.
Evidence in support of this statement was offered by a voluntary feeding association in Lambeth, which coped with 12 to 15 per cent of starving children in some districts and with 25 to 30 per cent in other and poorer schools. There need, then, be no astonishment to find the doctor going on to declare:
Ninety per cent of the boys are anæmic. They suffer from every physical symptom of anæmia, with pale faces and lustreless eyes, and 15 per cent had eczema in one year. A good many suffer from blight in the eyes and sore eyelids. The hair is badly nourished and wispy, giving a very old look carly in life.
In this same school it was found that, owing to want of food, 77 per cent of the boys were above the standard age in the grade in which they studied. In the first grade, 92 per cent were above the usual age, and this at the very threshold of education. No child in this school ever reaches the highest elementary grade. Another school in a different portion of London, West Ham, showed that 87 per cent of the infants and 70 per cent of the older children were below the normal physique. These were all the children of dockers.
Turning to the provinces, we have corroborative evidence. In Manchester, the centre of the cotton industry, 15 per cent of the school population was declared to be underfed. There was some conflict of evidence in this case between hard facts and the old enemy, comparison with previous years. A free meal committee with very limited resources fed 6 per cent of the school population during the year 1902-03; and