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Chadwick, Edwin

CHADWICK, EDWIN

Edwin Chadwick (18001890) was the principal architect of the Sanitary Reform movement in Britain in the nineteenth century; his influence on the philosophy of public health and its translation into legislation was profound. Born near Manchester to a family of Wesleyan landowners, Chadwick was raised in London and trained in law. His father, James, had edited a radical journal, the Spectator. Following the appearance of some of his own writings in the Westminster Review, Edwin came to the attention of two of the leading philosophers and social theorists of the early eighteenth century, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Chadwick served as Bentham's literary secretary from 1830 until the latter's death in 1832, the year in which Chadwick was appointed to the new Poor Law Commission. In that role, his industry in investigating the conditions under which the poor lived, as well as his "knowledge of law, infinite capacity for taking pains over details, and his skill in marshalling the facts" (Marston 1925, p. 23) led him to exert a steadily greater influence on British public policy in a variety of areas relating to public health.

His advocacy led to the 1836 act that established a registry for births and deaths, and to the 1848 Public Health Act establishing a central board of health. He also influenced legislation on factories, child labor, and water supplies. He served as secretary to the Poor Law Board, and as a member of the first board of health (18481852). His sanitary philosophy, most fully explicated in his Enquiry into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842) viewed the improvement of drainage, housing, and water supply as an essential national economic good, as it prevented the early deaths of working men. Often uncompromising in his belief in the value of government intervention to remedy unsanitary conditions, he was frequently opposed by his business interests, and held no public office after 1852. He did, however, spend the rest of his long life advocating quietly for "The Sanitary Idea," and was knighted by Queen Victoria in the ninetieth and final year of his life.

Nigel Paneth

(see also: Filth Diseases; History of Public Health; Poverty and Health; Sanitation )

Bibliography

Jones, D. (1931). Edwin Chadwick and the Early Public Health Movement in England, Vol. 9: University of Iowa Studies in the Social Sciences. Iowa City: University of Iowa.

Marston, M. (1925). Sir Edwin Chadwick. London: Leonard Parson.

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Chadwick, Edwin

Chadwick, Edwin (1800–90). Reformer. John Stuart Mill called Chadwick ‘one of the organising and contriving minds of the age’, and the great moment in his life came in 1829 when he met the aged Jeremy Bentham and became his literary secretary. Henceforward, Chadwick was utilitarianism in action. He was born in Manchester, his family moved to London when he was 10, and he became a lawyer. In 1832 he was appointed to the Poor Law Commission and the following year to the commission on children in factories. His influence on both reports was very great and he was appointed secretary to the Poor Law Commission in 1834, a post which brought him savage criticism. Another of his abiding interests was sanitary reform and from 1848 to 1854 he served as a commissioner on the new Board of Health. He was then rather pointedly pensioned off and his public career closed, though he continued to campaign, particularly for competitive examinations in the civil service. Chadwick's character made him not only an exemplar but a caricature of utilitarian reform. He was hard-working, rigorous, and determined, but also tactless, unhumorous, impatient, dogmatic, and over-confident. Significantly, he was made to wait for his knighthood until he was 89.

J. A. Cannon

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