Date of Award

Fall 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jablonsky, Thomas J.

Second Advisor

Avella, Steven

Third Advisor

Marten, James


The true measure of a city's health is the health of its people. To truly understand how Milwaukee came to be known as the "healthiest city" in 1930, one must examine the health needs of common Milwaukeeans from 1880 to 1929. This study seeks to complement Judith Leavitt's pioneering work on public health in Milwaukee by presenting a picture, not of the politics of health reform, but of the personal side of health in the city.

Through an extensive examination of records including, but not limited to, coroner's reports, hospital records, personal correspondence, newspapers, cemetery data, and institutional records, a picture of the overall health of the city's population emerges. These records speak of the urban environment and its effects on everyday people. Communicable diseases, tragic accidents, suicides, physical examinations, venereal diseases, housing problems, and occupational hazards are only a portion of the health story that Milwaukee created at the turn of the last century. While political and institutional histories are essential, the story told here focuses on the people of Milwaukee and their experiences.

While the city would dramatically grow and change during the twentieth century, its people remained its most valuable asset. As a city initially defined by German, polish, and Italian immigrants, today Milwaukee has significant Hispanic and Hmong communities. The immigrant groups have changed but the challenges of living in the urban environment remain the same. The health of the city as a whole, as well as of its everyday citizens, is a strong indicator of its general economic, social, and physical health. Sick citizens create a sick city, both on a biologic level and an economic level. By bettering their individual health, the health of the overall city improves. The lessons and challenges that Milwaukeeans faced in the early twentieth century provide insight and models for Milwaukeeans of the twenty-first century. While breweries will make Milwaukee famous, it is her citizenry that makes the city prosper.


Interdisciplinary PhD: History, Anthropology, Public Health