In the waning years of World War I, the Red Cross and the Rockefeller Foundation joined forces to combat a growing threat: tuberculosis. An education campaign focused on hygiene was the key to their public health strategy. Looking back on their recommendations one hundred years later, it’s surprising (or not surprising?) how many hygiene tips remain exactly the same.

Cough or sneeze into a handkerchief. Don’t spit on the floor. Bathe often with soap. Get plenty of rest. Don’t share lollipops with others. Don’t put your fingers in your mouth. Steer clear of others on the sidewalk.

Sound familiar?

Public Health through Public Education

With Rockefeller Foundation funds, the Red Cross focused its publishing efforts on one illustrated pamphlet called Aux Enfants de France (To the Children of France). The little book featured drawings in the style of the French school textbook tradition, so children would relate to it. Through this familiar form, French schoolchildren could learn about the first lines of defense against communicable disease: good hygiene habits.

Teachers and students read the pamphlet together. Students wrote essays about the health advice they were learning and took copies of the little book home to their families. To reward these efforts, the children then received a “certificate of the good health cross.”

Children received a certificate of good health, adorned with illustrations of healthy habits.

The Foundation’s International Health Board staff were so hopeful about the small pamphlet’s potential to prevent the spread of disease that they had it translated into several languages, including English.

Of course the advent of antibiotics has changed much for tuberculosis prognoses and treatment. Not to mention that people don’t seem to spit on the floor nearly as often as they used to — and certainly not on carpet! Yet the booklet’s essential advice about personal cleanliness and careful interpersonal interactions remains relevant during any infectious outbreak.

The American version, To the Children of America, is featured here.

Gallery: To the Children of America, 1919Rockefeller Foundation records, projects, SG 1.1 (FA386B), series 500, subseries 500.T: France – Tuberculosis, box 32, folder 276, RAC.


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Director of Research and Education, Rockefeller Archive Center