When you were in college, did you visit the health center? I did, several times. Did you ever wonder why there was a student health center? I didn’t. It seemed like a part of the college scenery, something that had “always” been there. Far from it, as Heather Prescott shows in her fascinating new book Student Bodies. The Influence of Student Health Services in American Society & Medicine (University of Michigan Press, 2007). Believe it or not, many very smart folks used to believe that college could hurt you, especially (though not exclusively) if you were a woman. And it wasn’t just that you could catch a nasty cold. Too much thinking, these folks said, might weaken the body and lead to a decline in fertility. That wouldn’t be good for the “race.” So some forward-thinking people began to consider ways in which the health of America’s sons and daughters might be protected while they studied. The result was a kind of early experiment in universal health care. In some ways it succeeded and in others it failed. But in either case it holds lessons for us (Americans, that is) as we think about how to fix our broken national health care system. We should thank Heather for teaching these lessons to us.
Please become a fan of “New Books in History” on Facebook if you haven’t already.