The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin: Historical Collection

The work is divided into two parts. Part One marshals behavioral and morphological evidence to argue that humans evolved from other animals. Darwin shows that human mental and emotional capacities, far from making human beings unique, are evidence of an animal origin and evolutionary development. Part Two is an extended discussion of the differences between the sexes of many species and how they arose as a result of selection. Here Darwin lays the foundation for much contemporary research by arguing that many characteristics of animals have evolved not in response to the selective pressures exerted by their physical and biological environment, but rather to confer an advantage in sexual competition. These two themes are drawn together in two final chapters on the role of sexual selection in humans.

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Vital Statistics by A. Newsolme: Historical Collection

First published in 1889, this book provides a guide to vital statistics applied to the life-history of communities and nations in relation to medical problems. Chapters cover a wide variety of categories including population, births and deaths, sickness, occupation and mortality, and mortality from special diseases.

Newsholme lived through a time wherein England, and many other countries in the western world, saw a demographic transition characterized by an exponential growth of the population since halfway the nineteenth century, which he explained both by a rise in fertility and mortality since the early nineteenth century, followed by a decline of mortality since halfway the nineteenth century followed by a decline in fertility after 1875.

Amongst some of the most surprising statistics is that the earthernware and china manufacture “was noted by Dr Farr in 1871 as one of the unhealthiest trades in this country” (p.160) Plumbers also had a high mortality mainly determined by “lead poisoning, alcoholism and accident”. (P.161)

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Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition: carried on by order of the British government during the years 1835, 1836 and 1837 by Captain Francis Rawdon Chesney: Historical Collection

‘Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition’, is a very detailed account of the navigation of the Euphrates by steamship, from Birecik to the Persian Gulf, a total distance of 1400 kilometres. In charge of the expedition was Captain Francis Rawdon Chesney whose goal was to establish a shorter, more direct overland route to India.

His adventures also involve 22 days crossing the Arabian desert and a descent down the Euphrates by raft.

Capt. Chesneys Raft, in 1830, p.70
Diyar Bekr p. 186

The expedition’s progress downstream was slow, arduous, and not without tragedy. Disaster struck when a tornado sank the smaller steamship `Tigris’ at a cost of 22 lives. “From the moment of striking the bank until the “Tigris” went down, it scarcely exceeded eight minutes , whilst the operation of sinking itself did not consume more than three minutes; indeed the gale was so very violent, that I doubt whether the most powerful vessel, such as a frigate, could have resisted unless she was already secured to the bank; and for this, in our case, there was little or no time, as it was barely possible, in the position of our consort, to make fast and save the vessel.” p.178

It is a rich and very colourful account of human endurance which will be enjoyed by all history buffs.

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Focus on: Trachoma

Two hundred million people still live in regions endemic for trachoma, a painful and potentially blinding eye disease. This is despite concerted international efforts to tackle the condition.

Trachoma is caused by repeated infections with the bacteria C. Trachomatis. Multiple infections lead to inflammation and the hardening of the inside of the eyelid, eventually leading to the eyelashes turning inwards. This can be extremely painful, and if left unchecked can lead to blindness through the scarring of the eye.

Stronger-SAFE is a Wellcome Trust-funded project that aims to develop and test new, more effective interventions and treatment approaches for the disease in Ethiopia. The video below outlines what Stronger-SAFE is doing in Ethiopia and how the research will benefit people there and beyond.

For more information on our trachoma research visit our research page here:

For more information on Stronger-SAFE visit the project website here:

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World Leprosy Day 2023

World Leprosy Day aims to raise awareness of a disease, and those affected by it, that is often forgotten about. Nearly 600 people are diagnosed with and start treatment for leprosy every day. It is estimated millions more go undiagnosed. In 2020, 127,558 new leprosy cases were detected globally, and the new case detection rate among child population was recorded at 4.4 per million child population. At the end of 2020, the prevalence rate corresponded to 16.7 per million population (WHO).

Leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) is an infection caused by bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. It can take up to 20 years to develop signs of the infection. The disease can affect the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose (nasal mucosa). The bacteria attack the nerves, which can become swollen under the skin. This can cause the affected areas to lose the ability to sense touch and pain, which can lead to injuries, like cuts and burns.

If left untreated, the nerve damage can result in paralysis of hands and feet. In very advanced cases, the person may have multiple injuries due to lack of sensation, and eventually the body may reabsorb the affected digits over time, resulting in the apparent loss of toes and fingers. Corneal ulcers and blindness can also occur if facial nerves are affected. Other signs of advanced Hansen’s disease may include loss of eyebrows and saddle-nose deformity resulting from damage to the nasal septum.

Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent disability that can result from the disease, and people with Hansen’s disease can continue to work and lead an active life. Once treatment is started, the person is no longer contagious. (CDC)

In 2019, as part of LSHTM’s 120th anniversary celebration, LSHTM decided to add the names of three female pioneers to the frieze. Staff and students were asked to suggest names; the three names that were chosen are Florence Nightingale, Marie Sklodowska-Curie and Alice Ball.

Alice Augusta Ball (July 24, 1892 – December 31, 1916) was an African American chemist who developed an injectable herbal extract (ethyl hydnocarpate) that was the most effective treatment for leprosy during the early 20th century. She was the first woman and first African American to receive a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, and was also the university’s first female chemistry professor.

Alice Ball now sits alongside other medical pioneers in LSHTM’S iconic frieze.

Library print resources on leprosy are located under shelf mark JD and there are many online resources, including eBooks, eJournals, datasets, MSc projects and theses to support research and study on this disease.

Decolonising the Archive: colonial language in our archival catalogue

As part of our commitment to decolonisation at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, we’ve been reviewing the language used in our archival catalogue. We found many examples of outdated language, such as colonial place names. Archival documentation is an interpretive act which takes place within a contemporary and historical context. Language changes and evolves depending on societal and political dynamics and we believe that archival vocabularies should change alongside language. Updating catalogue entries is a simple step towards avoiding relying on outdated language for the discovery of documents.

We’ve decided to begin amending our archival titles and descriptions by adding context on the current names of countries. This is an ongoing process due to the large number of edits which we need to make to our catalogue. However, we’ve made a start with a selection of postcards in the Robert Leiper collection (GB 0809 Leiper/02/02/01-35).

Robert Thomson Leiper (1881-1969)

GB 0809 Leiper/02/01/11 – Black and white photograph of Robert Thomson Leiper

Leiper worked at LSHTM from 1905 until his retirement in 1947. Sir Patrick Manson recruited him as a helminthologist while the School was still based at the London Docks, prior to its emergence as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1924. He travelled extensively during his studies of helminths, including a research trip to investigate Guinea Worm in Ghana. Research trips such as these are intrinsically linked with colonialism. Leiper was working at a time when LSHTM effectively functioned as the Colonial Office’s research body. The School undertook research funded by the Colonial Office and by commercial interests in the colonies.

Leiper collected and sent a selection of 35 postcards during a research trip between 1905-1907. By collecting and sending these postcards, Leiper arguably shows a willingness to observe local culture and to convey his interpretations of this culture to acquaintances. However, the postcards also illustrate how the white gaze influenced the ways in which Leiper interacted with the environment in which he was conducting his research.

GB 0809 Leiper/02/02/03 – Black and white postcard showing a market place in Sekondi, Gold Coast (now Ghana), 1898
GB 0809 Leiper/02/02/32 – Black and white postcard showing a woman preparing plantains in Uganda

Colonial language

In the postcard captions and in Leiper’s handwritten messages, Ghana is referred to as the ‘Gold Coast’. This name comes from a time when various European empires set up colonies in Ghana. These colonies were used to exploit resources in the region. Britain established a Crown colony there from 1821 until 1957. In 1957 the region was unified with other colonial territories and gained independence as the country of Ghana. 

Where previously the title of an item in our catalogue would read exactly as it does on the postcard: ‘Sceneries of the Gold Coast’, it now reads: ‘Sceneries of the Gold Coast (now Ghana)’. As well as amending these titles, we have also added contextual notes to descriptions. For example: ‘The term ‘German West Africa’ was used between 1884 and 1919 to describe the territories now known as Cameroon and Togo.’ By adding contextual information to our archival catalogue we aim to improve the discoverability of these items.  

GB 0809 Leiper/02/02/29Colour postcard showing waterfall and river sceneries in the Gold Coast (now Ghana)
GB 0809 Leiper/02/02/20Black and white postcard showing a view of the Cameroon River

In addition to colonial place names, we found other outdated language on the postcards. We found the Inclusive Terminology Project glossaries by Carissa Chew in collaboration with the National Library of Scotland useful in amending this language. For example, the phrase ‘native costume’ is an othering way to describe non-Western clothing. We’ve amended this language to ‘traditional clothing’ in the title for the postcard on our catalogue, with the original caption recorded in the description.

GB 0809 Leiper/02/02/12 – Colour postcard showing a Ghanaian man and woman in traditional clothing

It’s still necessary to record the linguistic history of archival description and the previous language used. In all instances the original item itself remains unaltered in its use of colonial language, in order to preserve the historical record. We don’t want to erase LSHTM’s colonial past, but rather provide context as to why certain terms are now problematic. This will be an ongoing process for the archive service to address the reality of colonial legacy within our collections. It’s important not to censor instances of outdated language within our collection, especially for published titles and official names. We hope that by making additions to the context of our archival description we can promote the ethical use of information contained within our collections.

You can view the postcards on our online catalogue here.

Health Policy and Planning’s Top 10 articles in 2022

By Natasha Salaria (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)

Health Policy and Planning publishes health policy and systems research focusing on low- and middle-income countries. The journal consists of four sections; Health Systems Research, Health Economics, Health Policy Processes and Implementation Research and Evaluation.

In 2022, our impact factor increased from to 3.344 to 3.547 which makes us 25th out of 88th in the Health Policy & Services ISI category. We had another very busy year in 2022 leading onto 2023 with several call for papers launched including the following:

  1. Call for papers: from COVID-19 to stronger health systems looking for papers on responses to COVID-19 that can help strengthen people-centred and equitable health systems [Deadline ongoing]
    You can access the ongoing article collection here.
  2. Call For Papers for Supplement: Intersectoral collaboration and integrative governance on the road for health in all policies [Deadline 1 March]
  3. Call for Papers: Climate Change and Health [Deadline ongoing]

For queries around submissions, please do not hesitate to contact our editorial office:

We ended the year by publishing a Statement of Intent demonstrating our commitment to continuous improvement and to doing more to ensure that global health research publishing is fair for all who to contribute. We also created and shared our new video resources for our authors and reviewers with Top 10 Tips for submitting your manuscript to Health Policy and Planning and reviewing articles. We hope this is a useful resource to our community!

As usual we kept up with our podcasts and continue to make these accessible and visible to all, discussing published papers in the Journal with our authors. This also goes for our hand-picked content by the editors of Health Policy and Planning which you can access as Editor’s choice articles here.

Below you can find our top most cited, downloaded and most accessed content in the past year from content published in 2022. We continue to thank our valued Section Editors, reviewers and authors for their dedication to HPP and contribution to the publication of high-quality research.

Top Cited

  1. Operational and structural factors influencing enrolment in community-based health insurance schemes: an observational study using 12 waves of nationwide panel data from Senegal [LINK]
  2. Understanding online dual practice of public hospital doctors in China: a mixed-methods study [LINK]
  3. COP27 Climate Change Conference: urgent action needed for Africa and the world [LINK]
  4. Strengthening local governance in health financing in China: a text-mining analysis of policy changes between 2009 and 2020 [LINK]
  5. Absenteeism Among Family Planning Providers: A Mixed-Methods Study in Western Kenya [LINK]
  6. Scaling-up through piloting: dual-track provider payment reforms in China’s health system [LINK]
  7. Health system governance in settings with conflict-affected populations: a systematic review [LINK]
  8. Estimating a cost-effectiveness threshold for health care decision-making in South Africa-a Commentary [LINK]
  9. Assessing the long-term effects of Basic Medical Insurance on catastrophic health spending in China [LINK]
  10.  Assessment of the association between the Brazilian family health strategy and adult mortality [LINK]
  11. Effects of COVID-19 on child health services utilization and delivery in rural Mozambique: a qualitative study [LINK]

Top Downloaded

  1. How to do (or not to do) horizontal ellipsis using causal loop diagrams for health system research in low and middle-income settings [LINK]
  2. Establishing political priority for global mental health: a qualitative policy analysis [LINK]
  3. Coverage of iron and folic acid supplementation in India: progress under the Anemia Mukt Bharat strategy 2017-20 [LINK]
  4. A comparative policy analysis of the adoption and implementation of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes (2016-19) in 16 countries [LINK]
  5. Using gender analysis matrixes to integrate a gender lens into infectious diseases outbreaks research [LINK]
  6. Rethinking external assistance for health [LINK]
  7. Zooming in and out: a holistic framework for research on maternal, late foetal and newborn survival and health [LINK]
  8. Evaluations of effective coverage of maternal and child health services: A systematic review [LINK]
  9. The impact of unconditional cash transfers on morbidity and health-seeking behaviour in Africa: evidence from Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe [LINK]
  1. Effects of COVID-19 on child health services utilization and delivery in rural Mozambique: a qualitative study [LINK]

Top Altmetric

  1. Context and priorities for health systems strengthening for pain and disability in low- and middle-income countries: a secondary qualitative study and content analysis of health policies [LINK]
  2. Adoption and scale-up of the cardiovascular Polypill: a realist institutional analysis [LINK]
  3. Establishing political priority for global mental health: a qualitative policy analysis [LINK]
  4. Explicitly sexing health security: analysing the downstream effects of Panama’s sex-segregated COVID-19 disease control policy [LINK]
  5. Rethinking external assistance for health [LINK]
  6. Health policy and planning: statement of intent [LINK]
  7. Power across the global health landscape: a network analysis of development assistance 1990–2015 [LINK]
  8. Characterizing key misconceptions of equity in health financing for universal health coverage [LINK]
  9. Health system governance in settings with conflict-affected populations: a systematic review [LINK]
  10.  A qualitative evaluation of priority-setting by the Health Benefits Package Advisory Panel in Kenya [LINK]
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The Pamphlet Collection: Defeating The Nostrum Evil

It’s often very peaceful up in the gallery of the main Reading Room. There isn’t any space for desks, just a narrow walkway allowing you to browse the shelves. That means you can pass by a lot of shelving on your way to find a volume, giving ample opportunity for an odd title or shelf mark to catch your eye. That’s what happened to me with these two otherwise unassuming-looking orange bound volumes – the titles, embossed in gold, inform the reader that they contain “Pamphlets on the Nostrum Evil.” Suitably intrigued, I picked them up to investigate… 

Photograph of the spines of the two volumes of "American Medical Association: Pamphlets on the Nostrum Evil" in place on the shelves.

It turns out that this is a series of pamphlets published in the early 1920s by the Journal of the American Medical Association (amusingly enough, by their “Propaganda Department”) in Chicago. They try to inform a general reader about an astounding variety of quack cures and remedies: these are the so-called “nostra”. You can find them at shelfmarks RC.AE 1922-4 and RC.AE 1923, and catalogue entries for volumes 1 and 2 are on Discover. 

Nostra: a brief history

Though fake cures are regrettably still everywhere, the term nostrum is now rather out of fashion. Derived directly from the Latin adjective noster, it would translate literally as “our thing,” denoting the exclusivity of the medicine to its seller. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, its first recorded use in writing in this context comes from 1602. This reference is most likely to a book by Francis Herring, a British physician, entitled The anatomyes of the true physition, and counterfeit mounte-banke wherein both of them, are graphically described, and set out in their right, and orient colours. In a lengthy description of the different traits of a fake doctor (or, in his words a “counterfeite Mounte-Banke”), Herring asserts: 

“The greater Part of these Study, and that seriously, the Art of Sophistry, Cousening, and plaine Cony-catching, aduauncing, and setting to sale with Great applause and Concourse, their wit∣lesse Nostrums, which they haue patched together by the marring of two or three good Medicines, to make a third worst of all, feeding the Common People with Toyes, Trifles, Bables, Nut-shels, plaine Chaffe in stead of Wheate…” 

Herring, F. (1602). The anatomyes of the true physition… p. 15.

A transcription of Herring’s work is available online on the University of Michigan’s website and makes for fascinating reading. This paragraph suggests that the association between nostra and unscrupulous doctors already existed in the 1600s. It also suggests that people were already lying about qualifications and the efficacy of medicines, and that others were already calling them out on it.

Patent medicines and accusations of quackery

Our pamphlets, published three hundred and twenty years and an ocean away, use the word nostrum because of the precipitous rise of patent medicines in the UK and the USA. Indeed, the name “patent medicine” itself derives from the claims made in advertising to royal endorsement (i.e., “letters patent”) in the 18th century. Patent medicines were widespread and heavily advertised in the USA during the 19th century, as shown in a blogpost on the Smithsonian’s collection.

The early 20th century brought a flurry of works challenging various patent medicines’ efficacy and legality. As a matter of fact, these works use the word nostrum liberally. The earliest contender was The Great American Fraud (1906) by Samuel Hopkins Adams, originally published in Collier’s Weekly. In fact, this publication had an enormous influence on American legislation on the sale of medicines. Adams’ work, according to Bryan Denham (2020), is “widely regarded as a central force behind passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.” This federal law required manufacturers to name and give quantities of any addictive ingredients, as well as banning the sale of misbranded or adulterated products. Another later example is Morris Fishbein’s Fads and Quackery in Healing (1932).

“Pamphlets on the Nostrum Evil”

There was therefore growing interest among doctors in using print publishing against those they felt were misusing it. This is the context into which we should set our Pamphlets on the Nostrum Evil. In general, books and pamphlets on patent medicine are shelved under shelfmark RC along with books on the pharmaceutical industry. 

The pamphlets are divided by subject matter, covering (in vol. 1)  

  • Alcohol, tobacco, and drug habit cures. 
  • Cancer “cures” and “treatments”. 
  • Consumption cures, cough remedies, etc. 
  • Cosmetic nostrums and allied preparations. 
  • “Deafness cures”. 
  • Epilepsy “cures” and “treatments”. 
  • “Female weakness cures”. 
  • Mechanical nostrums and quackery of the drugless type. 
  • Medical institutes (4th ed.). 
  • Medical mail-order concerns. 

In Vol. 2: 

  • “Men’s specialists”. 
  • Mineral waters. 
  • Miscellaneous nostrums (3rd ed.). 
  • Miscellaneous “specialists”. 
  • Nostrums for kidney disease and diabetes. 
  • Obesity cures. 
  • “Patent medicines”. 
  • Some quasi-medical institutions. 

The articles in these pamphlets are engagingly written. They appeal not only to a reader’s sense of outrage but also to their sense of humour. What’s more, they ridicule the claims made and offer detailed investigations into products and businesses. They also make considerable effort to reproduce some of the offending advertisements to better debunk them.

“Men’s Specialists”

A reproduced doctor's advertisement, reading "Transcription: "Men, Come to Us and avoid dangerous or uncertain treatment. Private consultation for all diseases-skin or blood diseases, bladder trouble, kidney weakness, rupture, varicose veins, catarrh, nervousness, stomach and liver diseases. Men: Young men and middle-aged men who have injured themselves, with weak backs, sunken cheeks, hollow eyes. We cure cheaply. Blood diseases. Ulcers in mouth, sore gums, falling hair, swellings, copper-colored spots, eruptions, boils. Our treatment is better than Hot Springs. Call and investigate, free. Enlarged Veins. Produce heavy sensations in the groin and back. They often impair the general health and often cause much worry. Are You Nervous and despondent; debilitated; tired mornings; no ambition; lifeless; easily fatigued; excitable and irritable; eyes sunken, red and blurred; pimples; restless; bone pains; sore throat. You Run No Risk - We Will Treat You Free. If you call now, before March 1st, we will give you one free week of treatment free, if you desire, to prove that we can cure you. Did you ever receive or hear of a fairer offer? If you cannot call, write for 242-page medical adviser, sent. Out-of-Town Men Visiting the City: Consult us at once upon arrival and maybe you can be cured before returning home. Many cases can be cured in one or two more visits, continuing treatment when at home. Consultation and advice free."
From “Men’s specialists”: Some Quacks and Their Methods. Propaganda Department of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1920, p. 29.

For example, the article on “Men’s Specialists” reprints articles from the Chicago Tribune in 1913, investigating five self-titled specialists in “men’s diseases.” Over nearly one hundred pages, detailed accusations are laid out, reporting patient experiences. Additionally, undercover investigators attended the practices and provided reports. Accusations varied from spurious diagnoses (especially of syphilis) to theft, “seduction,” and medical malpractice resulting in death. In similar fashion and reflecting this variety, the reporting ranges in tone between comic and deadly serious. The contrast in tones is often palpable, as in this argument between an investigated doctor and reporters over his advertising copy: 

"Dr. Walter Austin Code admitted that he is the physician who diagnoesd a healthy Tribune reporter as a symphilitic not long ago. He admitted that the published report of the consultation was a fair one. He was worried only about the possible use of his name in connection with this "mess." He pleaded extenuating circumstances for his diagnosis, designated the other advertising physicians as crooks, and warned the Tribune against believing their protestations of innocence. "I run the place," he said, "My brother is an assistant. My brother studied under Dr. Ehrlich in Germany." "Why do you have the picture of Dr. Ehrlich on your advertisement?" "That isn't a picture of Dr. Ehrlich, but a picture of me," said the doctor. Read "Ads" Carefully, He Says. "Why, then, is the picture so placed that Dr. Ehrlich's name, the only one in the advertisement, seems to be the caption under the picture?" "You should read advertisements carefully," said Dr. Code.
“Men’s specialists”: Some Quacks and Their Methods. Propaganda Department of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1920, p. 6.

The advertisement in question:

Reproduction of an advertisement by Code. A line-drawn portrait of a bearded man is placed underneath the headline "Prof. Ehrlich's 914 or improved 606," giving the impression that Ehrlich is involved in the business.
As promised by the discussion above, the placement of the portrait does make it look like it’s of Ehrlich. “Men’s specialists”: Some Quacks and Their Methods. Propaganda Department of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1920, p. 5. 

Sometimes, the interventions described sound just plain bizarre as well as dangerous, as with this headline: 

Text from another report, reading: Puts Cocain in Eye. "He put that man on the table and dropped a 4 per cent. solution of cocain in the man's eye. The man saw immediately, but I knew that the cocain had almost paralysed the optic nerve. I thought that the man stood a good chance of going blind. I went to Sweizenthall and remonstrated.
“Men’s specialists”: Some Quacks and Their Methods. Propaganda Department of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1920, p. 29. 

None of the language or methods will seem unusual to any reader who’s watched a modern-day scam unravel and get picked apart online. That is perhaps what makes it so interesting. In any case, these debunking attempts have fittingly survived the scammers they sought to unmask. What’s more, they provide evidence for the gradual development and refinement of drug testing, verification, and government oversight in the USA. The greater ease with which information could spread in the age of advertising meant more and more people could be exposed to dangerous pseudoscience. However, that same speed of communication also helped those who sought to counteract the danger, helping to improve public literacy and knowledge of medicine.

References and further reading

Denham, B. (2020). Magazine Journalism in the Golden Age of Muckraking: Patent-Medicine Exposures Before and After the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Journalism & Communication Monographs, 22(2), 100–159. 

Marcellus, Jane. “Nervous Women and Noble Savages: The Romanticized ‘Other’ in Nineteenth-Century US Patent Medicine Advertising.” Journal of popular culture 41, no. 5 (2008): 784–808.

Siff, Stephen, and Sarah Brady Siff. “Muckrakers and Other Manufacturers of Public Opinion on Drugs and Alcohol.” Journalism & communication monographs 22, no. 2 (2020): 164–168.

Teal, Adrian. “Quacks and Hacks: Georgian Medicine and the Power of Advertising.” The Lancet (British edition) 383, no. 9915 (2014): 404–405.

Torbenson, Michael, and Jonathon Erlen. “A Quantitative Profile of the Patent Medicine Industry in Baltimore from 1863 to 1930.” Pharmacy in history 49, no. 1 (2007): 15–27.

Valuck, R. J,, S. Poirier, and R. G. Mrtek. “Patent Medicine Muckraking: Influences on American Pharmacy, Social Reform, and Foreign Authors.” Pharmacy in history 34, no. 4 (1992): 183–192.

Octavia Hill and the Royal Commission on the Poor Law and the Unemployed (1905-09).  LSHTM Rare Books Blog Series No. 6. January 2023

The Royal Commission on the Poor Law and the Unemployed was set up in 1905 to review the system of poor relief provision and consider alternative ways to tackle unemployment. Twenty people were appointed to the Commission including Octavia Hill (1838-1912) and Beatrice Webb (1858-1943).  However, after four years of information gathering and deliberations they could not come to an agreement and two reports were released in 1909 – a Majority report backed by sixteen commissioners including Octavia and a Minority report supported by the other four.

Both reports criticized the health service provision to the Poor Law institutions but their proposed solutions differed. Ultimately the government did not accept either set of recommendations.  A system of insurance against ill-health for those who could afford it was implemented in 1911 and Poor Law institutions continued to provide care to the uninsured until changes were brought in by the launch of the National Health Service in 1948.

Portrait of Octavia Hill by John Singer Sargent

Octavia was born on 3 December 1838 at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, the third of five sisters brought up by their mother, Caroline Southwood Hill (née Smith, 1809-1902) and educated at home. When they lived at Finchley, in north London, they were close to their maternal grandfather, Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, in Highgate who acted as a surrogate father to the girls. When he was not working at the London Hospital in the East End Dr Southwood Smith campaigned on health reforms, child labour and better housing and it was in this atmosphere that Octavia grew up. 

When Octavia was fourteen she came face to face with poverty after her mother was appointed manager (1852-1855) of the newly founded Ladies Guild in Holborn. Finchley was at that time on the fringes of London, and the job necessitated a move to London for the family.  The Guild offered instruction in toy making to girls from a local Ragged School. Octavia supervised some of them and would occasionally visit the slums where they lived with minimal sanitation and rampant disease.  She saw firsthand how poverty affected people’s lives from childhood through to old age and argued that better accommodation was the first step they needed to rise-up from the cycle of deprivation and find employment to support themselves.  Octavia convinced some wealthy men including the artist John Ruskin (1819-1900) to support her cause and with their financial contributions she organized the purchase and renovation of housing stock to accommodate poor families.  She became their landlord and used the rents to keep the buildings in good repair. By 1874 Octavia had 3000 tenants in London.  Her work continues today as the Octavia Foundation.

Octavia Hill died in 1912. Her personal set of the proceedings of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law and the Unemployed, amounting to more than 40 volumes of Parliamentary Papers, and especially bound by Jas Truscott & Sons, Contractors for Bookbinding to HM Government, was presented to the LSHTM Library by Lady Shirley Murphy on 28 August 1929. Lady Murphy was the widow of Sir Shirley Forster Murphy (1848-1923), the first Medical Officer of London County Council (1887-1911).

Octavia Hill’s personal copies of the report bound in lilac half-leather by the government binder. Her name and the royal arms are stamped on the front covers in gilt lettering. The height of the volumes is 33.5 cm.
The title pages of Royal Commissions relating to the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress from 1909 & 1910.

Octavia Hill grew up playing in the fields surrounding Finchley when it was a village. She recognized the benefits that nature brought her and campaigned for the preservation of open spaces and their protection from development, convinced that they conferred benefits to the well-being and health of all.  Octavia’s crusade, with support from others, ultimately led to the foundation of the National Trust in 1895.


DARLEY, G., 2004. Hill, Octavia, pp. 164-167 in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 27.

GOLDMAN, L., 2016.  Octavia Hill, Beatrice Webb and the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, 1905-9 : a mid-Victorian in an Edwardian world, pp. 255-256, in E. BAIGENT & B. COWELL (editors), 2016, Octavia Hill, social activism and the remaking of British society. London : University of London Press. Institute of Historical Research.

GREAT BRITAIN. Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress. Report and Appendices.  (LSHTM Library *SQC 1909-1913 (folios).

WATTS, A.S., 1974. Octavia Hill and the influence of Dickens. In housing management and the preservation of the countryside, Octavia Hill was a Victorian pioneer. History Today 24 : 348-353.

WEBB, Sydney & WEBB, Beatrice, (eds), 1909. The Break-up of the Poor Law : being part one of the minority report of the Poor Law Commission. London : Longmans, Green & Co (LSHTM Library *ZVW 1909).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off on Octavia Hill and the Royal Commission on the Poor Law and the Unemployed (1905-09).  LSHTM Rare Books Blog Series No. 6. January 2023

Book Display: Dry January

Photograph of Dry January book display consisting of eight books, with bust of Sir Richard Doll on the right.

Dry January is a campaign run by Alcohol Change UK during which participants abstain from drinking alcohol for January. Alcohol Change UK is a British charity that works towards reducing harms caused by alcohol consumption. Since it started in 2012, Dry January has grown fast. It has been widely covered by British media outlets and was endorsed by Public Health England in a 2015 campaign

Alcohol Change UK’s website offers a variety of resources, including an app. It also provides a warning that those who are dependent on alcohol should not totally stop consuming it and should contact their GP instead for help with reducing drinking more safely. 

Also, the growing popularity of Dry January has attracted the attention of publAc health scholars: one 2017 paper concluded that participants were more likely to successfully refuse alcohol than those who tried to take part “unofficially.”* 

At LSHTM Library, we have a variety of resources covering alcohol and its relationships with health and society. This ranges from analyses of its effects on the body to histories of its regulation and consumption. The book display seeks to showcase this variety. It includes policy documents, historical works and resources on addiction and recovery. Books and pamphlets on alcohol typically have the shelf mark GFD. You can also find numerous books and journal articles online by searching Discover

*Full citation: Richard O. de Visser, Emily Robinson, Tom Smith, Gemma Cass, Matthew Walmsley, The growth of ‘Dry January’: promoting participation and the benefits of participation, European Journal of Public Health, Volume 27, Issue 5, October 2017, Pages 929–931, 

Books on display

  “An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Alcohol and Other Recreational Drugs: Conference Proceedings, Admiralty Arch, London, 15 July 2003.” Oxford: Beckley Foundation, 2003. 

Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Research and Public Policy. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 

Berridge, Virginia. Demons: Our Changing Attitudes to Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drugs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 

  Berridge, Virginia. Temperance: Its History and Impact on Current and Future Alcohol Policy. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2005. 

  Blocker, Jack S., David M. Fahey, and Ian R. Tyrrell. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: an International Encyclopedia: Volume 1: A-L. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2003. 

  Butler, Shane. Alcohol, Drugs and Health Promotion in Modern Ireland. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 2002. 

Gerritsen, J.-W. (Jan-Willem). The Control of Fuddle and Flash: a Sociological History of the Regulation of Alcohol and Opiates. Leiden: Brill, 2000. 

  Gli italiani e l’alcool: consumi, tendenze ed atteggiamenti = The Italians and alcohol: consumption, trends and attitudes. 3rd Doxa National Survey. Italy: Vignola Editore, 1998. 

  Greenaway, John. Drink and British Politics Since 1930: a Study in Policy-Making. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 

  Kemm, J. R. Alcohol and the Public Health: a Study by a Working Party of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal Colleges of Physicians on the Prevention of Harm Related to the Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs. Macmillan Education, 1991. 

  Kyvig, David E. Law, Alcohol, and Order: Perspectives on National Prohibition. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1985. 

  Lewis, Milton James. A Rum State: Alcohol and State Policy in Australia 1788-1988. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1992. 

  Nicholls, James. The Politics of Alcohol: a History of the Drink Question in England. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2012. 

  Regulating Lifestyle Risks: the EU, Alcohol, Tobacco and Unhealthy Diets. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 

  Robertson, Ian, and Nick. Heather. Let’s Drink to Your Health! A Self-Help Guide to Sensible Drinking. British Psychological Society, 1996. 

  Smart, Reginald G, Alan C Ogborne, and Alan C (Alan Charles) Ogborne. Northern Spirits: Drinking in Canada, Then and Now. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation, 1986. 

  Trias Llimós, Sergi, F. Janssen, and L. J. G. van Wissen. “Alcohol-Attributable Mortality in Europe : Past Trends and Their Effects on Overall Mortality Variations”. University of Groningen, 2019.