The Original American Inventors: Celebrating Native American Innovation through History

November is Native American Heritage Month, so what better time to discover some of the contributions Native Americans have made in the fields of technology, agriculture, and health through history.

Technology and Agriculture

The floating gardens of the Aztecs, the elaborate citadels of the Incas, and the impeccably precise Mayan Calendar are a few examples of technical achievements made by indigenous people of the North American pre-Columbian era.

But many people don’t realize that scores of equally well-known innovations trace back to these early creators. For instance, Native Americans were the first to make mouthwash, the kayak, the hypodermic syringe, and even the baby bottle. Here are a few more inventions that are worthy of mention.

The Suspension Bridge

The Menai Bridge, which was built in 1828 in Wales, is credited with being the first modern suspension bridge. But did you know the Incas created the suspension bridge hundreds of years before the first Spaniards arrived in South America?

One of the longest of these solid, woven grass bridges stretched to 148 feet. It was part of a system of over 200 bridges that connected the 25,000 miles long Great Inca Road over rivers and gorges throughout South America and the Andes Mountains.

Today, visitors can still marvel at the Q’eswachaka, the last remaining Inca Bridge which, spans the Apurimac River in Canas Province, Peru, at a breathtaking 120 feet.

Corn

Corn did not grow naturally in the Americas as many of us were taught in school. It was, instead, engineered by Native Americans in Mexico and Guatemala. They were, through many generations of selectively breeding teosinte, a type of wild grass, able to produce kernels of corn that were soft enough to be eaten.

Then, like many Native American inventions, it traveled like wildfire across Native American trade routes and was soon grown by indigenous farmers all over North and South America.

Rubber

Rubber was another amazing Native American innovation. Columbus was so taken with the substance that he brought a rubber ball back to Europe where it would be improved upon and then rapidly commercialized and distributed. Can you imagine what life would be like today without rubber for tennis shoes or tires?

Health & Wellness

Native Americans have also contributed to overall health and wellness by identifying more than 2,500 plants currently used for specific beneficial applications. 

Today, modern research studies have shown that many of these plants have efficacy as preventive and therapeutic tools.

Willow Bark

Aspirin was invented by a German scientist named Felix Hoffman in 1897. But the active ingredient, salicin, which was derived from the bark of the willow tree (2), had already been widely used by Native Americans to reduce fever and inflammation for thousands of years (10,11).

Yarrow

For centuries, people worldwide have used Achillea millefolium, or Yarrow, to treat wounds and help stop excessive bleeding. Native Americans also used various parts of this plant to address skin conditions and insomnia.

New studies reveal that Yarrow has anti-inflammatory properties and that it may also help ward off anxiety and high blood pressure (9,12).

American Ginseng

Native Americans have long used American Ginseng, or Panax Quinquefolius, for stress, swelling, fevers, ED, and to enhance the libido of men and women alike.

And, recent research suggests that American Ginseng may also help with some viruses and has been shown to help decrease blood sugar levels (9,13).

Echinacea

Anti-viral, anti-inflammatory Echinacea, or American Cone Flower, has long been a powerhouse in the fight against the common cold. Native Americans used the roots, leaves, and brightly colored flowers for symptoms such as coughs and sore throats. Echinacea was also used to relieve pain and inflammation (9,14,15).

Immune System Health

Echinacea has been widely studied in recent years. Research has shown it to effectively help address upper respiratory infections associated with illnesses like the common cold (16). Touted for its healthful, anti-viral properties, Echinacea is also gaining a well-deserved reputation as a robust, immune-boosting dietary supplement (9).

An easy way to get Echinacea along with the nutrition you need to help optimize your immune system function is to take an immunity blend that incorporates several proven ingredients together, like Stonehenge Health’s Dynamic Immunity.

Formulated with 200mg of Echinacea in each dosage plus vitamins C, E, B6, Zinc, L-Glutamine, Elderberry, Turmeric, and Garlic – taking Dynamic Immunity daily helps balance and fully support your immune system, so it’s ready to respond when you need it most.

Sources:
1. msn.com/en-us/news/us/november-is-native-american-heritage-month-and-middle-tennessee-has-a-rich-history/ar-AAQevdF?ocid=uxbndlbing
2. forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2020/11/29/7-native-american-inventions-that-revolutionized-medicine-and-public-health/?sh=2b05664e1e73 “7 Native American Inventions That Revolutionized Medicine And Public Health”
3. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1894700/ “The Discovery of Aspirin’s Antithrombotic Effects”
4. smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2017/08/05/qeswachaka-last-inka-suspension-bridge/
5. nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/inca-grass-rope-bridge-qeswachaka-unesco
6. earthsky.org/human-world/this-date-in-science-first-modern-suspension-bridge-completed/
7. popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/g16639655/a-brief-history-of-bridges-from-stone-to-suspension/
8. history.com/news/native-american-inventions
9. yerbamateculture.com/native-american-herbal-remedies/
10. nativetech.org/willow/willow.htm
11. native-languages.org/legends-willow.htm
12. wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=acmi2
13. mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/american-ginseng
14. link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-18156-1_2
15. academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/72/2/339/4729391
16. healthline.com/nutrition/echinacea

Health Contributions in History: Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, Father of Homeopathics

It’s 1781. You’ve just described your symptoms, and after careful consideration, your doctor announces your prognosis, “You have a cold.” To alleviate your suffering, he intends to nick an artery in your forearm and drain several pints of blood from your body. While you process this news, your practitioner tells you that you also have gonorrhea, which he plans to treat by applying leeches – and you’ll never guess where.

This scenario might seem like a bit from a Monty Python movie, but treatments like bloodletting and leeches were part of every orthodox physician’s standard playbook in the not-too-distant past.

During this era, in the latter part of the 18th century, a young Doctor found himself in a conundrum; practice this dangerous, harrowing medicine against all good conscience or quit the medical field altogether.

Meet Dr. Samuel Hahnemann

Dr. Samuel Hahnemann was one of the physicians who broke from static and often dangerous practices to create treatments based on scientific discovery and observation. 

Born into the middle-class in 1755 in Meissen, Germany, young Hahnemann had a talent for science and languages, and by the time he reached adulthood, he was fluent in English, French, Greek, and Latin.

He began his studies at the University of Leipzig in 1775, where he put his talent for languages to work translating medical books to help cover his mounting expenses. He later moved to Vienna to gain valuable clinical experience, and then in 1779, he transferred to Erlangen to complete his studies.

In 1781, Hahnemann, now a doctor, took a position in a small copper mining village where he came to loath many aspects of his profession – particularly the practice of bloodletting, which was a popular treatment for a wide array of ailments at the time.

Consumed by guilt as he witnessed the adverse effects that many “modern” treatments exacted on his patients, he lamented that by using these methods, he was doing more harm than good.

By 1783, just a short time after marrying his first wife, Johanna Henriette Kuchler, Samuel gave up his practice altogether and made translating books his profession.

This voluntary pay cut soothed the young doctor’s troubled conscience, but it also created a period of hardship for Samuel and his young family. Determined to provide for his brood (which would swell to include eleven children), he worked to build a reputation as an esteemed translator and chemist in his own right. His work translating textbooks exposed him to a tremendous expanse of therapeutic content, and it was with this breadth of knowledge that he began to compare and challenge the ideologies of the day.  

This photo is from the collection of the Burns Archive. Attribution: The Burns Archive – Burns Archive via Newsweek, 2.4.2011.

The Birth of Homeopathic Therapies

While translating a section of text in 1791, Dr. Hahnemann doubted the author’s conclusion that Cinchona (quinine) from the bark of a Peruvian tree was effective for the treatment of Malaria because of its “bitter taste and astringency.” If that was true, he wondered, why then didn’t all bitter, astringent substances treat Malaria?

He decided to conduct an experiment, and over several days, took small doses of Cinchona and recorded his observations. The drug created symptoms that were strikingly like those caused by Malaria. This led him to hypothesize, “that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms,” or “like cures like,” which became the principal idea behind a new movement which he would name Homeopathics.

Using himself, his numerous children, and volunteers as test subjects, Dr. Hahnemann went on to test hundreds of plants and substances and their corresponding symptoms, which he cataloged to create a drug picture, or Materia Medica.

In 1810, Dr. Hahnemann published his ideas in the Organon of the Art of Healing, a doctrine that would challenge old school practices and spread like wildfire throughout Europe and the United States.

“Like Cures Like”

The word Homeopathic originates from the Greek word “homeo,” which means “Like,” and “Pathos,” which means “suffering.” The idea of “like curing” wasn’t exactly a new theory; Hippocrates was the first to raise the notion in the days of ancient Greece. However, it was Dr. Samuel Hahnemann who brought the concept into modern times.

After carefully interviewing a patient to gain a picture of their overall health, a homeopathic practitioner pairs the patient’s complaints, in totality, with the Materia Medica that most closely resembles the patient’s symptoms. This pairing of Like Cures Like intends to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal.

The Critics

The number of critics of Homeopathic treatments grew almost as rapidly as its popularity. The most prominent opponents were apothecaries whose profits were threatened by the growing market for these less expensive remedies. And as medical schools adopted homeopathic ideas into their curriculums, orthodox, old-school doctors lent their voices to the rising rebellion as they fought to maintain the status quo.

Through all this opposition, the proponents of this new, alternative treatments pushed forward through the 1800s. By the beginning of the 20th century, Homeopathic remedies had become established in the United States, with 100 homeopathic hospitals, 22 homeopathic schools, and more than 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies.  

Today, homeopathic treatments are experiencing a resurgence in popularity by both homeopathic practitioners and physicians to complement modern therapies.

Thanks to Dr. Hahnemann…

By challenging the established norms, visionaries like Dr. Samuel Hahnemann helped usher in a new era of discovery and research.

Now, for instance, if you feel a cold or a virus coming on, rather than calling for a bloodletter, you’d take steps to strengthen your immune system to reduce the spread of infection safely.

To ensure your immune system is getting all of the nutrients it needs to function fully, consider taking a comprehensive immune system support supplement like Dynamic Immunity

Dynamic Immunity combines critical nutrients – Vitamins C, E, B6, L-Glutamine, and Zinc – in one dosage to help support your body’s natural defense system. It also includes Echinacea, Elderberry, Turmeric, and Garlic – powerhouse antioxidants shown to boost immune system cell and antibody activity.

If you do ultimately feel a cold or flu coming on, double your dosage of Dynamic Immunity. It will help accelerate your body’s return to health by boosting your capacity to fight off infections.  

Sources:
1. (Medical news Today, Maria Cohut, Ph.D, November 16, 2020).
2. History.com, Jennie Cohen, A brief History of Bloodletting, August 29, 2018
3. Homeoint.org/morrell/articles/biohahnemann.htm
4. Guides.library.nymc.edu/ChristianHahnemann

Health Contributions in History: Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benne, Raw Food Trailblazer

As a pioneer in holistic, natural healing in the early twentieth century, Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner was considered a radical in the medical world for preaching that exercise, spiritual peace, and diet were keys to a healthy body and mind.

Dr. Bircher-Benner may have been scorned by the traditional medical establishment of that era, but that did not stop him from opening his “Vital Force” clinic in Zurich. There he developed the world-renowned health food Muesli. Today the good doctor is recognized as one of the founders of vegetarianism and the earliest supporter of a raw-food diet. 

Let’s take a look at Dr. Bircher-Benner’s contributions to healthy living as we celebrate him today.

Early Life

Maximillian Bircher was born in Arau, Switzerland in 1867. He attended the University of Zurich as a medical student. At the time, different theories regarding nutrition were heavily debated. Some theorized that all human energy came from meat; some believed human’s best source of energy came from vegetables. Max was solidly in the vegetarianism camp; from there, he evolved his passion for raw food.

People did not generally eat uncooked food because Western culture believed that raw foods were hard to digest. At the time, all vegetables and fruits were thoroughly cooked before they were eaten. However, Dr. Bircher was open to the new ideas that were circulating regarding nutrition.

Upon graduation, Max went to Berlin to study the water-cure method with Sebastian Kneipp. He traveled to Heinrich Lahmann’s clinic near Dresden to learn about diet therapy and then to Vienna to attend Wilhelm Wintemitz on hydrotherapy.  

Dr. Bircher married Elisabeth Benner in 1899 and changed his name to Dr. Bircher-Benner. 

Vital Force

When Max returned to Zurich, he opened a clinic for physical therapy, electrotherapy, and hydrotherapy. He called his clinic “Lebendige Kraft” (Vital Force.) The clinic had only seven beds, but its affluent proximity in Zurich got the attention of people who could afford the doctor’s therapies.

The doctor’s raw food ideas were solidifying by this point. He believed that raw foods held vital nutrition in them from “solar light energy.” Conversely, he thought cooked meat was the poorest form of nutritional energy. When he presented his ideas to a local medical association in 1900, they did not react well and labeled him a “quack.” Unfortunately, his solar energy ideas destroyed his academic reputation. 

Still, the doctor gained a following, and he pressed on. 

In 1903, he published “Brief fundamentals of nutritional therapy on the basis of the energetic tension in food.” Within a year, demand for his therapies became popular enough that he had to expand the clinic. In 1904, he moved it to the suburbs of Zurich and renamed the clinic “Sanatorium Lebendige Kraft” (Vital Force Sanitarium.)

At Vital Force, the doctor developed a living and eating regime he called the “order therapy.” Participants rose at 6 am, walked before breakfast, spent most of the day outside exercising, and went to bed at 9 pm. The regime also included massages, sunbaths, and cold showers.  

No alcohol, coffee, or tobacco were allowed on the premises, and the food plan was pretty much a raw vegetarian and dairy diet only. Alice Bircher and Berta Brupbacher-Bircher, the doctor’s sisters, transformed his raw food ideas into recipes for the clinic. Every meal started with a dish of their famous Muesli, which contained grated whole apple with nuts, milk, and oats. 

Over the following years, the clinic attracted well-known people such as Hermann Hesse, Golda Meir, and Thomas Mann. 

In 1927, Dr. Benner-Bircher publicly declared that he had given up meat entirely. By the late 1920s, his ideas gained popularity among the general public, and the doctor had become an authority in less conventional, homeopathic medical circles.

Max Bircher-Benner hated that the medical community did not respect him. It’s a bitter-sweet footnote to his life that his work was recognized after his death in 1939 upon the discovery of Vitamin C and other nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Legacy

As the founder of the first plant-based diet clinic and proponent of cleansing to address chronic illness, Dr. Max Benner-Bircher was truly a man before his time.  His ideas from more than 100 years ago shaped our understanding of holistic medicine and the importance of raw foods are still practiced today.

And his Muesli creation, known the world over, remains the standard breakfast not only in his native Switzerland but every European country.

Health Contributions in History: Celebrating Jack Lalanne, The Godfather of Fitness

Jack LaLanne lived nearly a century, and in that time, he motivated millions to embrace physical fitness and good nutrition to help improve their lives. He often said, “Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together, and you’ve got a kingdom.” As the man that started the fitness revolution in America, he’s lovingly known as “the godfather of fitness.”

Early Life

Francois Henri “Jack” LaLanne was born to French immigrants in San Francisco on Sept. 26, 1914. As a child, Jack had many health issues that he attributed to laziness and poor eating habits.

Because of his poor health, by the time he was 15, Jack was forced to drop out of school,  a self-described “emotional and physical wreck.” A pivotal moment came when his mother took him to a lecture by health food advocate and fitness enthusiast Paul C. Braag.

Something in that lecture gave Jack the motivation to stay away from unhealthy food and commit himself to physical fitness – and turn his life around. And this commitment not only changed his life but the entire country.

Jack’s first goal was to achieve the body of his dreams. He joined the local YMCA, discovered weights, and devised his exercises. By 1936, he was a champion wrestler and represented America in the Olympic games.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – February 8 2015: Jack Lalanne’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star on February 8, 2015 in Hollywood, CA.

“Godfather of Fitness”

Jack’s next goal was helping others achieve the same health and vitality he had through physical fitness. He went to chiropractic school to get a deeper understanding of the muscular system and the human body. In Oakland, CA, he opened the “Jack Lalanne Physical Culture Studio,” the first fitness center.

Jack was roundly criticized for charging money for exercise and was ridiculed for his health and fitness beliefs. “People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” Jack once said. “The doctors were against me. They said working out with weights would give people heart attacks, and they would lose their sex drives.”

In the 1940’s, Doctors believed that women should stay away from weights because lifting would make a female body more masculine. Coaches commonly banned their athletes from lifting weights because it was thought that bigger muscles slowed a man down.

But Jack Lalanne would not let the naysayers hold him or progress back. 

“The Jack LaLanne Show” made its debut on a local San Francisco TV station in 1951. His show went nationwide in 1959. Jack’s novel short-sleeved blue jumpsuit showed off his impressive physique and made him an instant celebrity, as did his fingertip push-ups. He showed his viewers how to stay fit with simple props like broomsticks and rope.

Jack appealed to kids with his white German Sheppard, Happy, and he’d always say to them, “You go get Mother or Daddy, Grandmother, Grandfather, whoever is in the house. You go get them, and you make sure they exercise with me.”

“The Jack Lalanne Show” ran for almost 25 years, until the mid-1980s.

The Legend

Up until his very last days, Jack Lalanne preached the good news of physical fitness. He opened dozens of fitness centers, invented the forerunners of modern exercise equipment like pulley devices and leg extensions, made and sold exercise videos and fitness books. He marketed the first juicer to blend raw vegetables and fruits. 

And into his later years, he set an example to the elderly and disabled to exercise. At 60 years old, he swam handcuffed from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf, towing a 1,000-pound boat. At 70 years old, he pulled 70 boats through Long Beach Harbor.

Throughout his life, Jack Lalanne provided the ways to achieve physical health and offered encouragement in pursuing it. Most importantly, he lived by example. The godfather of physical fitness is truly a legend, and his vision paved the way for a healthier future in America.

Health Contributions in History: Celebrating the Dali Lama: Messenger of Joy

Joy is the reward, really, of seeking to give joy to others. When you show compassion, when you show caring, when you show love to others, do things for others, in a wonderful way you have a deep joy that you can get in no other way. – The Dali Lama

BERLIN – Dalai Lama gives a speech during a solidarity demonstration for Tibet at the Brandenburg Gate May 19, 2008, in Berlin.

The Dalai Lama is arguably the most beloved spiritual leader in the world. From spiritualism to philosophy to human rights, this man is revered for his wisdom and spreading the message of peace far and wide. 

He was born Lhamo Dhondu on July 6, 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet in northeastern Tibet. When he was two years old, Lhamo was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama and declared Tibet’s future spiritual and political leader.

In 1950, the Chinese invaded Tibet. Eight years later and following China’s brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising, the Dalai Lama was forced into exile and has been living in Dharamsala, India, ever since. In 1989, the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent 40-year campaign to liberate Tibet in the face of extreme aggression. 

Forgiveness and compassion for all living beings have always been the two cornerstones of the teachings of the Dalai Lama. He has received hundreds of awards, honorary doctorates, and prizes, recognizing his messages of non-violence and inter-religious understanding.

He has written and co-authored over 100 books on living a more compassionate, more joyous life. In 2015 he spent a week in retreat with Archbishop Desmund Tuto, reflecting on the paths to sustained happiness. From this meeting of two great spiritual minds came the Book of Joy. 

The Eight Pillars of Joy

1. Perspective

“For every event in life,” says the Dali Lama, “there are many different angles.” How you see your life determines how you feel about your life. Nurturing a broader perspective and reframing things in a positive light allows you to be less self-centered and see challenging moments in a more neutral context. Take heart in knowing that situations that seem impossible today will be unimportant in time. 

2. Humility 

A Tibetan prayer reads, “Whenever I see someone, may I never feel superior.” Humility makes it easier to be open to the opinions of others. Without this openness, learning and personal growth stop – both of which are necessary for a happy life.

Many people confuse humility with timidity, but they are very different qualities. While fear is the root of timidity, humility understands that other people are just as valuable as you are.

3. Humor

Humor that does not belittle or mock others brings people together and diffuses stressful situations. Humor allows us to coexist peacefully with each other. 

In addition to the joy that humor brings, it has a positive impact on your physical health. Studies show that humor boosts your immune system and lowers stress hormones that cause inflammation.

4. Acceptance

According to the Book of Joy, acceptance is “the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty.” A central practice of Buddhism sees life accurately, cutting through presuppositions, expectations, and distortions. 

Don’t confuse acceptance with resignation or defeat. 

Acceptance lets you realistically see your life instead of wishing in vain that things could be different. It enables you to move forward and adapt rather than be mired in the past, which brings about despair, denial, and anxiety.

5. Forgiveness

Holding onto grievances is a way of hoping that the past could be different. When you hang onto the past – you also feel anger and want vengeance, and you are only hurting yourself with those feelings. 

Until you forgive, you allow the person that perpetrated the wrong to have control over you. Forgiveness allows you to get past life’s pain, and then it stops impeding living a joyful life.

6. Gratitude

Gratitude forces you to shift your attention from what you lack to what you have. Gratitude makes you count your blessings instead of your burdens. 

But gratitude does not come naturally. It’s in our DNA to drift towards the negative because awareness of what’s wrong and dangerous is about survival. You must actively be aware of your negative bias and purposefully choose gratitude every day.

7. Compassion

When you see others suffer and want to help relieve that suffering, that is compassion. The more time you think of others, the less time you think about your own problems. The Dali Lama says, “When we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness.” 

8. Generosity

Money and possessions are not on the road to happiness, but spending on others is. Giving of yourself has a doubling effect because both you and the receiver feel joy. Whether the giving is large or small, people who give have greater long-term life satisfaction. 

There’s a reason why every spiritual practice embraces giving and why we have a positive physical response to generosity. We are social beings and not meant to live in opposition to each other. That’s why when we give to others, everyone benefits.

When the Dalai Lama was asked to account for his popularity among believers and non-believers alike, he responded, “Perhaps it’s because I talk about cultivating a good heart.” He added, “I think of other human beings as my brothers and sisters, and I pay special attention to the oneness of humanity.” 

Now in his late 80s, the Dalai Lama continues to spread the message of universal human kindness. Always with a smile on his face and a loving message for all, the Dalai Lama inspires us to live his Eight Pillars, letting joy be an enduring part of our own lives.

Health Contributions in History: Celebrating Dr. Sara Josephine Baker, The Life Saver

At a time and in a field that barely tolerated women, Dr. Sara Josephine Baker was a pioneer in public health and a champion of preventative medicine. Dr. Baker saved countless immigrant lives by forming measures that reduced maternal, infant, and child mortality. Her work with poor mothers and children became a model for cities across the country and helped establish the United States Children’s Bureau in 1912.

Dr. Baker wrote 250 published articles around preventive medicine and five books on childcare and hygiene. As a woman physician, feminist and lesbian, she undoubtedly faced significant discrimination making her high-profile career that much more exceptional. This June Pride Month, we celebrate Dr. Sara Josephine Baker (1873–1945).

 

Early Life

Sarah Baker was born in Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1873 to Jenny and Daniel Baker. Both her mother and father were highly educated, and the expectation for Sarah was that she would attend Vassar like her mother.

When her father and brother died suddenly, Sarah became responsible for herself and her mother’s livelihood. She gave up a scholarship to Vassar and instead enrolled in the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, hoping to secure a position as a doctor.

Baker was among the first generation of women to attend medical school, and she benefitted from powerful female role models, including her school’s founders, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell.

Upon her graduation in 1898, she served a year internship in Boston at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, serving some of the city’s poorest people. There she saw firsthand the living conditions of tenement housing – crowded, unsanitary, and neglected – were newly arrived immigrants raised their children. And she gained a keen understanding of poverty’s detrimental effect on one’s health. This awareness shaped the rest of her career.

 

Career in Public Health

It was called the “suicide ward” – that’s how New York City health inspectors described the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. The killers of the day – measles, dysentery, and typhoid fever found plenty of carriers within the tightly-packed neighborhoods.

Rundown, overcrowded tenement buildings without basic sanitation or plumbing provided fertile breeding grounds for these dangerous diseases – taking as many as 4,500 infants and children’s lives every week. Without a political voice, the residents were largely ignored and written off as hopeless by the New York City Health Department.

When Dr. Baker returned to New York after her internship in Boston in 1902 where she joined the New York Health Department as a health inspector. Five years later, she was promoted to director of the Bureau of Child Hygiene. This department was newly formed and tasked to tackle infant mortality. With this appointment, Dr. Sara Baker became the first woman to serve as a health official of a major municipality in America.

At the time, infant mortality was shockingly high. In New York City, one-third of children died before they reached five years old. Baker developed programs on basic hygiene for immigrants living in slum neighborhoods. She founded the Little Mothers Leagues, which trained young girls who were often responsible for their siblings – the basics of infant care.

Baker organized baby health stations that distributed fresh milk. She implemented training and regulations for midwives, which significantly impacted maternal and infant mortality. Once her programs were established, infant and child mortality plummeted.

By the time Baker retired in the mid-1930s with her partner Ida Wyliein, New York had the lowest infant mortality rate in America. Thirty-five states implemented versions of her health programs.

 

A Powerful Woman in a Man’s World

Baker’s work often involved supervising a staff of male doctors that were often skeptical of women in medicine. She adapted by dressing to minimize her femininity, wearing tailored suits, stiff collars, and men’s ties. She would joke that her colleagues often disparaged women doctors in conversations with her because they didn’t think of her as a woman.

Baker’s theory that if mothers had guidelines to care for infants and children, then most deaths could be prevented proved correct. Historians credit her initiatives for saving more than 90,000 immigrants’ lives that would have otherwise been taken by ignorance or disease.

Dr. Baker’s contributions to public health made her a shining light in the field of social policy. Her preventative approach to medicine promoted widespread public trust in medical professionals and made New York City a healthier place.

Health Contributions in History: Indra Devi, Mother of Western Yoga


“Yoga means union, in all its significances and dimensions.” – Indra Devi

Yoga has been shown to have numerous health and wellness benefits. Yoga has become increasingly popular to help improve your flexibility, strength, and posture, helping reduce muscle and body pain.  A consistent practice of Yoga also helps reduce anxiety, depression, and stress levels, plus it improves sleep.

In this blog, we’re shining the spotlight on Yoga pioneer Indra Devi who broke the men-only barrier and helped spread the ancient practice to the Western world.

From its inception 4,500 years ago until the mid 20th century, yoga was exclusively taught and practiced by men in India. Indra Devi convinced Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, to teach her when yoga was forbidden to women.

Indra became a seminal yoga practitioner, teaching celebrities including Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, and Greta Garbo. She’s best known for breaking barriers and making yoga accessible to everyone.

Early Life

Born Eugenie Peterson in Riga, Latvia, on May 12, 1899, Indra Devi’s father was a Swedish bank director, and her mother was Russian royalty. When the communist came to power in 1917, she and her mother fled to Berlin. There Devi became a dancer and actress.

In 1927, she sailed to India to become a film star under the name Indra Devi. In 1930, she married Jan Stratkaty, a member of the Czechoslovak embassy in Bombay. Through her husband, Indra Devi met Krishnamacharya.

Indra approached Sri Krishnamacharya about teaching her yoga. He said at the time. It would be impossible for me to take on a woman, especially a foreign one. “It cannot be done.”

Eventually, her desire to learn and persistence won out, and he agreed to train Indra to become a teacher herself. Indra was the first woman and the first non-Indian to have trained under Krishnamacharya. After spending the war years in China and upon her husband’s death, Indra made her way to America in 1947.

Eva Gabor with Indra Devi

Indra in America

When Indra opened her first studio in Hollywood, little was known in America about the ancient Indian practice of yoga.

Indra was a spirited and charismatic person, and it took her little time to gather a following among the movie stars. A photo of Indra teaching poses to Eva Gabor was widely seen and made her a celebrity in her own right. Soon Indra’s brand of modern, secular yoga had Los Angeles housewives flocking to her studio.

She became friends with the expert cosmetologist Elizabeth Arden and taught at her spas in Arizona and Maine. During this time, Devi wrote “Forever Young, Forever Healthy” and “Renew Your Life by Practicing Yoga,” which soon became best sellers. In 1959, Indra published “Yoga for Americans,” which became a staple for budding yoga practitioners everywhere.

For over 60 years, Indra Devi was one of yoga’s most influential forces, spending most of her life traveling and teaching yoga around the world.  Even after she reached the advanced age of 100, Indra Devi continued to practice yoga. Her followers called her Mataji, a Hindi term meaning “respected mother.” The title is a singular honor for the woman who exemplified yoga’s principles of love and light that lasted nearly all of her 102 years.

Indra’s Legacy

Today, in America alone, over 55 million people practice yoga because of the many benefits you gain – from more flexibility and strength to a relaxed mindset.

Devi developed and taught a form of hatha yoga that remains one of the most popular forms of yoga today. It includes postures called asanas and breathing exercises called pranayama.  Some of the asana body postures she taught included:

Sirsasana – the Headstand

The headstand has restorative benefits for the nervous system and helps improve balance, body alignment, and strength.  It’s considered the most valuable asana.

Padamasana – the Lotus Pose

The ancient sitting posture called the lotus pose is the most recognized and used for steadiness and breathing.

Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog is one of the best-known asanas. It helps release tension in your shoulders, aligns your spine, and helps strengthen your arms and legs.

Health Contributions in History: Mister Rogers, Children’s Mental Health Champion

“I give an expression of care to each child every day to help him realize he is unique. I end this program by saying you’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.” Fred Rogers – Senate Testimony on Public Television 1969.

Some people truly stand out for their paradigm-shifting influence on our behavior and the way we view the world…

Gandhi, the Buddha, Mother Theresa are a few that come to mind.

Here’s another name to consider among this tribe of luminaries – Fred Rogers.

Fred Rogers created Mister Rogers Neighborhood and was the host of all 895 episodes that ran from 1968 to 2001. He composed more than 200 original songs and imagined 14 human and puppet characters.

For more than 30 years, every afternoon during his iconic children’s show, Mister Rogers encouraged his viewers to explore their imaginations, choose love over hate, and feel compassion towards others. Mister Rogers understood how to connect with kids. His technique was simple and sweet — he treated children with dignity by respecting their feelings and what they have to say.

But despite the shows loving tone, Mr. Rogers often dealt with controversial and emotionally poignant topics, tackling subjects like death, war, and divorce. He understood children experienced anger, resentment, fear, and uncertainty. Mental health and the mental wellbeing of children was a topic that Fred wasn’t afraid to champion.

 

On Mental Health

It seems that Mr. Rogers’s affinity towards kindly understanding was informed by his own childhood and bullying he faced as a shy, overweight eight-year-old. As an adult, he still remembered the hurt he felt, pretending that the bullying didn’t bother him. In the book The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Amy Hollingsworth recounts that Rogers “wanted someone to tell him that it was okay to feel bad about what happened, and even to feel sad…”

Fred would often explain that kids have emotions that are as varied and complex as grown-ups, a view that stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing wisdom of the time – that children’s feelings were, at best, trivial.

While speaking to children through the TV, Fred would often help them think about their thoughts and feelings so they could better cope with their emotions. He taught kids that it’s normal to feel angry or sad and not to be ashamed. He also encouraged children to listen to their minds to help sort through their feelings.

He explained his perspective during his 1969 senate testimony:

“I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger ― much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire.”

As beloved as he was, Fred Rogers was not without detractors. Some mental health professionals have looked at his messaging with concern and frustration. Some complained his over-emphasis on feelings and fixation on a child’s self-image, and self-esteem may have had unintended consequences. Is it possible that Mister Rogers is partly to blame for generations overly obsessed with feeling good?

 

His Legacy

What is Mister Rogers’ enduring legacy? Tom Hanks aptly expresses it in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, “We are trying to give children positive ways to deal with their feelings.” Fred’s messages resonated with children and adults alike, not so much because he created a memorable show, but because he used vehicles children could relate to express genuine compassion.

Fred Rogers’ transcendental kindness is legendary. So much so that decades after his death, we’re still enamored by his gentle approach and the wisdom that guided so many of us in our younger years. From the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor to the release of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks (both in 2019), we can’t seem to get enough of the man in the white sneakers and cardigan sweaters.

 

Sources:

misterrogers.org/about-fred-rogers/

psychologytoday.com/us/blog/checkpoints/201912/the-enduring-legacy-mr-rogers

Health Contributions in History: Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, The Original Weight Loss Guru

“If there is anything comparable to the joy taking in your clothes, I have not experienced it.” -Lulu Hunt Peters

Have you ever wondered where the trend to slim down started? Long before there were Miami Beach Diets, Jane Fonda, Peleton, pilates, gastric bypass surgery, and keto, one woman was on a weight-loss mission, Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters was a voice of reason in a world desperate to be thin.

Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters wrote the first best-selling diet book – Diet and Health with Key to Calories, published in 1918. In it, Ms. Peters introduced the concept of reducing body size by counting calories. Considering it wasn’t until the early 20h century that measuring food in calories as units of heat burned for energy was solidly understood, that was a stunning accomplishment.

Even more impressive, she did it at a time when women didn’t yet have the right to vote and were scarcely allowed to voice their opinion, let alone influence the course of dieting for the next 70 years.

History of Thin

Due to a more abundant and healthier food supply, Americans grew taller and more robust from colonial times to the mid-19th century than their European cousins. The ideal woman was plump, thought to be more capable of birthing healthy babies, till the soil and survive diseases.

Around 1880, different ideals regarding the female physique began to emerge, and by the turn of the century, thin was in officially. While science proved that too many pounds were terrible for life expectancy, being overweight became increasingly shameful. Apothecaries and snake-oil salesman took full advantage of this new demand to slim down with tonics and “fat salts” that promised to melt away fat.

In 1917, America entered WW1, and patriotic women were asked to abandon their corset metal for the war effort. Women everywhere stopped lacing their corsets and turned to diet to achieve the slim look they desired. Before too long, the waifish flapper look was in, setting the stage for Lulu’s “reducing” revolution.

The Calorie Queen

Lulu Hunt Peters spent her childhood overweight. She earned her medical degree from Berkely in 1909 and immediately began working on a solution to her fat problem. Peters did a wide range of research and created a sensible regiment of counting calories that she used to lose 70 pounds.

With her dieting success to showcase, Peters began a public health campaign to educate people about healthy eating, exercise, and weight control. Peter’s wrote a nationally-syndicated newspaper column that promoted healthy eating practices while railing against freak weight loss schemes like purging and tapeworms. Peters would also warn that diet pills contained potentially dangerous elements like mercury and arsenic.

In 1918, Peters released her seminal work. Although it was written over a century ago, Diet and Health is amazingly on point compared to today’s best practices in weight-loss methodology. Based on the absolute fact that to lose weight, calories taken in must not exceed calories burned. Peters also devised an accurate way to calculate both calories in food and one’s ideal body weight.

Diet and Health was written almost exclusively for an audience of middle to upper-class, educated women. Part of Peter’s appeal was that she took a very clinical, dry subject and turned it into a fun read filled with humor, wit, and wisdom. Thanks to its chatty style, and its effectiveness, Diet and Health climbed the bestseller list and stayed there for four years.

To date, Diet and Health has sold over 2 million copies and is still in print, although critics today are less complementary of Peters. She was known for her caustic wit and could be rather harsh and judgmental to those who failed to live up to the physical ideal.

Diet and Health, and her syndicated column made Peters the country’s first famous health guru and, during the 1920s, the most well-known female doctor in America. Lulu Hunt Peters insights are still relevant today, and people around the world still follow her advice.