Educating Bradford

Educating Bradford

7. Healthcare and Welfare

“How can you educate a dirty child?”

Margaret McMillan

In the 19th and early 20th century, children in industrial cities, like Bradford, were prone to ill-health and poor hygiene due to poverty. Medical inspections of Bradford schoolchildren in the 1890s brought the extent of this problem to light.

In 1892, Bradford Education Committee appointed the country’s first full time school medical officer, Dr. James Kerr. Dr. Kerr and Margaret McMillan conducted a medical inspection of Bradford schoolchildren in 1892. This is thought to be the country’s first, if not one of the first, school medical inspections. They found that schoolchildren had untreated health conditions, including rickets, scurvy, anaemia, malnutrition and chronic head lice. Many did not wash or bathe regularly.

One inspection examined 300 Bradford children, of which 100 had not removed their clothes, therefore bathed, for six months. McMillan saw that ‘the half-timers slept, exhausted at their desks, and still from streets and alleys, children attended school in every stage and state of physical misery’. Dr. Kerr described how ‘Apart from crippled and diseased bodies, many children were so dirty and verminous that they had to stand on large sheets of paper while they were being undressed’.

McMillan campaigned for schools to help improve children’s health and hygiene through school clinics, meals, bathrooms and medical inspections. After joining Bradford School Board in 1894, she put in place a school medical inspection scheme which started in 1899 at Usher Street School.

While health conditions could be picked up and treated during medical inspections, basic hygiene could be maintained by regular bathing or washing. Bradford opened the country’s first school swimming pool and baths in 1897 at Wapping Road Infant School. Bradfordians today remember swimming in ‘The Puddle’ at Wapping School.