Longer life expectancies contributed to population booms in major cities.
Which city's population grew the most? How did life expectancy change between 1850 and 1910?
By the 1840s, anesthesia was being widely used to relieve pain during surgery. The use of anesthetic gas allowed doctors to experiment with operations that had never before been possible.
Yet, throughout the century, hospitals could be dangerous places. Surgery was performed with dirty instruments in dank rooms. Often, a patient would survive an operation, only to die days later of infection. For the poor, being admitted to a hospital was often a death sentence. Wealthy or middle-class patients insisted on treatment in their own homes.
“The very first requirement in a hospital,” said British nurse Florence Nightingale, “is that it should do the sick no harm.” As an army nurse during the Crimean War, Nightingale insisted on better hygiene in field hospitals. After the war, she worked to introduce sanitary measures in British hospitals. She also founded the world's first school of nursing.
The English surgeon Joseph Lister discovered how antiseptics prevented infection. He insisted that surgeons sterilize their instruments and wash their hands before operating. Eventually, the use of antiseptics drastically reduced deaths from infection.
Why was the improvement in hospital care especially important to the poor?
As industrialization progressed, cities came to dominate the West. Cities grew as rural people streamed into urban areas for work. By the end of the 1800s, European and American cities had begun to take on many of the features of cities today.
Growing wealth and industrialization altered the basic layout of European cities. City planners created spacious new squares and boulevards. They lined these avenues with government buildings, offices, department stores, and theaters.
The most extensive urban renewal, or rebuilding of the poor areas of a city, took place in Paris in the 1850s. Georges Haussmann, chief planner for Napoleon III, destroyed many tangled medieval streets full of tenement housing. In their place, he built wide boulevards and splendid public buildings.
The project was designed after Paris had experienced frequent uprisings, where poor city dwellers and their leaders set up barricades across narrow streets to battle the authorities. Haussmann's plan provided jobs, and the wide new boulevards made it harder for rebels to block streets and easier for troops to move around the city.
Gradually, settlement patterns shifted. In most American cities, the rich lived in pleasant neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city.