DIY Medicine

Health and Hygiene

“Do not use your bedrooms as your study, your workshop, your office, your kitchen, or where you spend the evening ; throw the windows open wide in daylight, and live in them at night only.”
Raspail, François-Vincent, Médecine des familles (Family Medicine), p. 16.

Hygiene – both in terms of the people’s health and insalubrious streets and lodgings – had been a serious concern for the authorities since the 17th century. Nineteenth-century social and urban crises heightened this awareness.

The hygienist movement began to develop, especially after 1865 and the confirmation of Pasteur’s germ theory.

Wall poster in praise of “Water, Air and Light” in daily hygiene,
from the Armand Colin Wall Poster Collection, 1900.

“Gas’s Place in Modern Homes” calendar for 1892,
Imagerie Pellerin, 1891.

La Vie normale et la santé (Normal Life and Health),
Jules Rengade, [1881].

Keeping a healthy home became an increasingly important concern, and modernizing housing could only be advantageous on that score.

Still, despite those political considerations, popular medicine was meant first and foremost as a way for people to emancipate themselves through science.

L’hygiène (Hygiene), Jules Denizet, 1871.

Hygiène du dyspeptique (Hygiene for Dyspeptics),
Georges Linossier, 1900.

Advertisement for hydrotherapy treatments,
Lucien Métivet, 1891.

L’hygiène pour tous

Advertisement for Les grands maux et les grands remèdes
(Great Ills Require Great Remedies)
by Jules Rengade, [1887].

Knowing how to look after your body and keep it healthy was an important theme in “practical popularizing.” The many books published, often as part of themed, low-priced collections,

were meant to help readers preserve their health, both from everyday aches and pains, and from more serious afflictions.

Orthopédie populaire dédiée aux personnes philanthropes
(Popular Orthopedics, dedicated to Philanthropic Persons)
, Bongrand, 1843.

Authors often flaunted the philanthropic ideals that urged them to make their medical or technological knowledge available to all.

The idea was often to get readers to take their health and education into their own hands.

Mon docteur : traité de médecine et d'hygiène
(My Doctor: A Treatise on Medicine and Hygiene), H.-M. Menier, 1907.

La nouvelle médication naturelle : traité et aide-mémoire de médication et d'hygiène naturelles
(The New Natural Medication: A Treatise with Helpful Hints for Natural Medication and Hygiene)
Friedrich Eduard Bilz, 1909.

Folk wisdom in case of illness, in L'hygiène en images (Hygiene in Pictures),
Imagerie Pellerin, 1875.

Folk wisdom in case of illness, in L'hygiène en images (Hygiene in Pictures),
Imagerie Pellerin, 1875.

In a nutshell, the point was to teach people to do without doctors or pharmacies.

While some advocated natural medications, the popularizers endeavored to distance themselves from any form of charlatanism.


Portrait of François-Vincent Raspail, Leclerc, 1833.