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When Fears of Tuberculosis Drove an Open-Air School Movement

July 30, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Intended to curb the spread of tuberculosis, open-air schools grew into a major international movement in the early 1900s.

As the 20th century dawned, tuberculosis—otherwise known as consumption, “white plague” or “white death”—had become the leading cause of death in the United States. The dreaded lung disease killed an estimated 450 Americans a day, most of them between the ages of 15 and 44.

At the time, tuberculosis was associated with dirty, unhygienic living conditions, which were common for the workers who had packed into the cities of Europe and the United States since the Industrial Revolution. With no effective medicine available (yet), the preferred treatment was the open-air cure, or exposing patients to as much fresh air and sunlight as possible. This led to the proliferation of tuberculosis sanitariums, ranging from luxe spa-like resorts to government-run institutions across Europe and the United States.

Though many of its victims were poor city dwellers, no one was immune to tuberculosis—especially not children. In fact, doctors and educators believed that the crowded classrooms and lack of fresh air in many schools helped spread the disease. To keep kids healthy, they decided to take school outside.

WATCH: ‘Battlefield Medicine’ on HISTORY Vault

Germany’s Pioneering ‘Forest School for Sickly Children’

Children learning outdoors at a Waldschule, meaning forest school, in Charlottenburg, Germany.

The open-air school movement was launched in Germany in 1904, when Dr. Bernhard Bendix, a leading German pediatrician, and Hermann Neufert, a Berlin school inspector, opened the first Waldschule für kränkliche Kinder (or “forest school for sickly children”) in Charlottenburg, near Berlin. True to its name, the school was located in the heart of a nearby forest, with simple wooden buildings used for instruction in cold or rainy weather. Students commuted from the city and most suffered from pre-tuberculosis symptoms such as anemia or swollen glands.

That first Waldschule launched a movement that spread quickly across Europe, with similar experimental schools opening in Belgium, Italy, England, Switzerland and Spain. After World War I, the movement became more formalized. The League for Open Air Education spearheaded the first International Congress, held in Paris in 1922; four more international conferences had taken place by 1956.

READ MORE: Why the Second Wave of the Spanish Flu Was So Deadly

Open-Air Schools in the United States

Open-air class in manual training on the boat Southfield at Bellevue Hospital in …read more


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The 7 Oldest Presidents in History

July 30, 2020 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

The Founding Fathers only set an age minimum for U.S. presidents—not a maximum.

When the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention pondered the question of what age a president should be, the big concern wasn’t about the office-holder being too elderly, but too youthful.

George Mason was the principal advocate for age requirements for elective federal office, and his views were inscribed into the Constitution—over the objections of James Wilson,” explains John Seery, the George Irving Thompson Memorial Professor of Government and Professor of Politics at Pomona College, and author of the book Too Young to Run. “Rather than making a positive case in favor of the superior wisdom and maturity of elders, Mason derided the ‘deficiency of young politicians’ whose political opinions at the age of 21 would be ‘too crude & erroneous to merit an influence on public measures.’

“A generational smear, not an argument, won the day.”

As a result, Article II in the U.S. Constitution specifies a minimum age—35—but doesn’t set a maximum. In many instances, that’s enabled voters to elect presidents in their sixties and even in their seventies, an age when many ordinary citizens have retired.

WATCH: ‘The Presidents’ on HISTORY Vault

To some observers, the lack of an age limit for the nation’s highest office heightens the risk of getting a president who isn’t up to the rigors of the job. “I’m concerned about age-related dementia, which the job can accelerate given the pressure of the office,” explains Gary J. Schmitt, a resident scholar in strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “But I’m also concerned about the higher percentage of the chance of death while in office, meaning we will be voting for one candidate but getting someone else who we have not vetted as seriously.”

If President Franklin Roosevelt had died while Henry A. Wallace was vice president instead of Harry Truman, for example, “U.S. history would likely have taken a quite different turn,” Schmitt notes.

Even so, with a few exceptions, most elderly U.S. presidents seem to have been remarkably vigorous and capable. Here’s a list of the seven who were the oldest when they left office.

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan in 1980 in Los Angeles, California.

Born February 6, 1911, the nation’s 40th president was 77 years and 349 days old at the completion of his second term in January 1989. While campaigning …read more