National Security: the Value of Nutrition and Education

In the years leading up to World War I, many progressive thinkers began to campaign for social reform. The industrial revolution changed society in many ways, not all of which were good for the nation or for national security. Unskilled labor and skilled labor alike were susceptible to the ills of urban life. Just as the war in Europe was igniting, one group of progressive reformers was introducing home economics textbooks and coursework into schools. Proper hygiene and good nutrition began to be taught alongside other subjects. Malnutrition and disease were viewed as ills which not only weakened society but undermined national well-being. The reformers who pushed for better living conditions and education for urban families gained a powerful ally when the United States entered WWI. The ally was the U.S. Army. When faced with a modern war, modern both in weaponry and technologically, the U.S. Army quickly discovered that it was no longer beneficial to go to war with illiterate soldiers. Modern war demanded healthy soldiers and demanded that the soldiers could communicate efficiently with each other. Basic health and literacy became a necessity for the modern army. The ground gained in understanding this truth was not easily won. The soldiers who fought in the war learned firsthand the value of both a healthy body and the ability to communicate with their fellow soldiers. Having a common language coupled with the ability to read and write in it would be something the returning soldiers would seek for their own children. These veterans would push for change. By the end of World War II the realities of modern war mandated the necessity of having a nation populated with citizens possessing basic health and education. Education and proper nutrition became a matter of national security.

Additional Reading:

  • Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • National Security Act of 1947, Title X.
  • There were various publications designed to introduce Home Economics in the schools. Some have been scanned and can be found in different e-book collections. Original copies can be found through used bookstores. My favorites were authored by Helen Kinne and Anna M. Cooley.

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