Good eyes are your protection

By Rebecca Pou, Project Archivist

goodeyesareyourprotection“Wear glasses if the doctor advises you to do so.” “Don’t rub your eyes with dirty hands.” “If you suspect eye trouble, see an oculist at once.” This sound advice comes from a 1917 trifold leaflet aimed at school children and published by the Illinois Society for the Prevention of Blindness (ISPB), which was founded in 1916.

breadwinnersWhile the pamphlet contains helpful recommendations on eye health, the illustrations and design are particularly charming. Eyes peer out from the sign on the front cover, but we discover that those eyes belong to a boy in spectacles on the page beneath and the sign has cut outs. The eye holes must have been irresistible to children and are surrounded by guidelines for healthy eyes.


Click to enlarge.

The pamphlet stresses that proper eye care beginning in childhood confers life-long benefits, especially in a cartoon comparing two couples from an eye screening in childhood through old age. The pair that cares for their eyes flourishes in life, excelling in academics, extracurricular activities, and, in the case of the man, his profession. The other couple is plagued with nervousness and headaches, and both have trouble with work. While the pamphlet is aimed at children, the lesson is for parents as well. In her old age, the content woman is grateful to her mother for getting her the eye care she needed, while the unfortunate pair’s parents had dismissed the eye examiners’ recommendations.


Click to enlarge.

And for anyone who might need further convincing, the Society contrasts good sight and bad sight in black and white.


In his landmark book, The Evolution and Significance of the Modern Public Health Campaign, published in 1923, C-E. A. Winslow asserts that education and changed behavior are central to modern public health efforts.  He says, “the fight must be won, not by the construction of public works, but by the conduct of the individual life.” In this pamphlet, the ISPB is clearly appealing to individuals, encouraging them to choose good care over neglect, preventing the difficulties in life caused by blindness and eye disease.

Almost a century after the publication of “Good eyes are your protection,” the ISPB still exists and maintains a website. While their efforts seem more expansive, consisting of education, research and programs, the organization remains “dedicated to the care, protection, and preservation of sight.”

Item of the month: Scrapbook of Doctor John T. Nagle, One Album, Three Perspectives

By Christina Amato, Book Conservator

Our item of the month is a scrapbook compiled by Dr. John Nagle from the years 1868-1900.  Dr. Nagle was an employee of the New York City Bureau of Vital Statistics, and the album mostly consists of newspaper clippings concerning births and deaths, diseases, methods of disposing of bodies, etc.  It is an interesting item on many different levels.  When an item comes into the conservation lab, the first thing we naturally see is damage.  The album’s spine had fallen off, many of the newspaper clippings inside were crumpled and broken, and the front cover had warped in a particularly exuberant fashion:

Foredge before treatment.

Foredge before treatment.

Most visitors to the lab who encounter the album, however, just see the charming artwork on the cover:

scrapbook after

A student of book history might be more inclined to see it as a typical example of a publisher’s cloth binding.  Starched bookcloth, which was invented in the 1820s, allowed for the mass production of embossed covers such as the one above. A heated brass die would be used to stamp the cover, and even as late as the 1870s, when Dr. Nagle started compiling his scrapbook, each detail of the die would have been hand carved.

A researcher might have a different take on this item altogether. Though mostly consisting of statistics, which are fascinating in their own right, there are several small clippings that provide intriguing clues into the nature of Dr. Nagle himself:


In addition to sunny afternoon promenades, Dr. Nagle was known to engage in daring, maritime rescues, and heated competition over the title of “handsomest man”:


handsomest man

Depending on who you ask, the most interesting thing about this album could be its physical structure, the details of the cover design, or the content.  Regardless of where your interest may lie, conservation treatment has rendered the book accessible to all.  If you are interested in seeing this item, contact us at (212) 822-7313 or

Scrapbook after conservation treatment.

Scrapbook after conservation treatment.

Uncle Sam, M.D.

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director

Health Almanac, 1920 front cover.

Health Almanac, 1920 front cover.

How to get the word out? For the last two hundred years, health has been as much about education and prevention as intervention and response. And so an intrepid young doctor in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) latched onto using the almanac as a public health vehicle. Health Almanac 1920 (Public Health Bulletin No. 98; Washington, GPO, 1920) was a 12-page almanac entwined in a 56-page public health pamphlet. Amid checking for the phases of the moon or the times of sunrise and sunset, one could find short pieces giving warning signs for cancer, means to prevent the spread of malaria, the necessity of registering births, and how to build a good latrine. These and many other topics were all presented by “Uncle Sam, M.D.”; the almanac was free for the asking.

Uncle Sam Image 4--July right page

Health Hints and Notable Events for July 1920. Click to enlarge.

In the distant past, almanacs became linked to health through “astro-medicine” or “iatromathematics,” that is, medical astrology. Each of the signs of the zodiac was held to influence a system of the body, from Ares controlling the head to Pisces the feet, and so for everything in between. Almanacs were calendrical and astronomical, and in addition to marking sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, and religious holidays, they charted the day-by-day progress of the moon through the zodiac, with its supposed medical consequences. To this technical data, the most famous American almanac, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, added moralistic lessons and practical advice, wittily presented. Health Almanac 1920 provided these same features within the context of progressive secular government. The publication started with inspirational statements from President Woodrow Wilson, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Surgeon General —who together formed the chain of command for the Public Health Service! Instead of a calendar of religious seasons and saints’ days, the almanac noted national days and significant events in the history of medicine and in “The Great War,” just concluded. Everywhere were health aphorisms: “Good health costs little, poor health costs fortunes” (from the back cover), and “Large fillings from little cavities grow” (April 20). Some “health hints” were quite flatly presented: “Every home should have a sewer connection or a sanitary privy” (July 20), and “Food, fingers, and flies spread typhoid fever” (July 31). Some were just to the point: “Be thrifty” (November 15) and “Wear sensible shoes” (December 18). Throughout, the almanac highlighted the role of the USPHS in promoting health.

Uncle Sam Image 2--back cover

Health Almanac, 1920 back cover.

The Health Almanac was published in 1919 and 1920—we have the 1920 edition—as was a parallel publication called the Miners’ Safety and Health Almanac, put out by the Bureau of Mines. Both were the brainchild of Dr. Ralph Chester Williams (1888–1984), then at the outset of his successful career with the Public Health Service. Born in Alabama and a 1910 graduate of the University of Alabama Medical School, Williams entered the USPHS in 1916 and was posted to the Bureau of Mines during World War I. Pulled into the Office of the Surgeon General, he edited Public Health Reports, served as Chief Medical Officer to the Farm Security Administration, as Medical Director of the USPHS’s New York City office, and starting in 1943, as Assistant Surgeon General and head of its Bureau of Medical Services. In that capacity he oversaw a third of the operations of the USPHS, including immigration inspection and USPHS hospitals. In 1951 the Commissioned Officers Association of the USPHS published his standard history, The United States Public Health Service, 1798–1950. At almost 900 pages, it dwarfs the Health Almanac 1920, but both show their author’s dedication to getting the word out about health and, not incidentally, about the agency that helped make that happen.