Monday, February 1, 2010

1 February 1901: Athens' Fine Health Record

On this day in 1901, the Athens Daily Banner published the following notice:

One thing that Athens is justly proud of is her magnificent health record. Much as been written and said about it but here is one of the strongest proofs which has ever been brought forward, viz, in one of the worst months of the year for deaths and fatalities from disease, there has not been a single interment in the Oconee cemetery.

This comes from the report of Mr. Bisson, the efficient sexton. The last interment was made there on December 29th when the burial of Mrs. M. J. Abney occurred.

This showing can hardly be equalled by any city of its size in the United States and she is justly proud of it.

While such accolades to the citizenry for surviving January might seem peculiar, for Athens, a focus on the city's "excellent health record" is a common theme in the newspapers, and is frequently featured in the city profiles found in front of city directories from the early 1900s.

In the 1904 directory, three of the first five paragraphs about Athens discuss how and why "youth and vigorous manhood and womanhood enjoy almost an immunity from death in this community." Such vital citizenry was attributed to the city's "magnificent water supply," "natural drainage advantages that very few cities can boast," and a "magnificent sewerage system that traverses more than thirteen miles of streets." In 1909, the city directory noted that of the sewer system in Athens "too high praise cannot be given."

Though the 1904 directory focuses on natural features as much as civic ones (average temperatures receive equal accolades to the education available), by 1909, the focus is industry, with whole paragraphs about various manufacturing companies in town. Clean water and sanitation are a basic fact of our modern life, but for Athens, in her first century, access to the Oconee and a decent sewer system was a quality of life draw for industry and point of civic pride.

Learn More:

Athens Daily Banner, Feb. 1900 - Dec. 1908 Supplemental on Microfilm in the Heritage collection.
1904 Athens City Directory in the Heritage collection.
1909 Athens City Directory in the Heritage collection.
Oconee Hill Cemetery, Athens, Georgia, Vol. I by Charlotte Thomas Marshall in the Heritage and general collections.
Oconee Hill Cemetery Record of Interments in the Heritage room collection.
Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities web page.
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene page for the World Health Organization.

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