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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Via Andrew Sullivan’s blog, I see that Olmsted is even credited with bringing us that all-American virtue, cleanliness. Katherine Ashenburg wrote about this in her 2008 book, The Dirt on Clean.

Oddly enough it was the Civil War that got Americans interested in being clean. The army’s initially derided Sanitary Commission, headed by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, had proved that simple soap and water could significantly reduce military mortality, and by the end of the war cleanliness was seen as patriotic, progressive and distinctively American. Good hygiene had other virtues: it was a way to mark status and civility in a country without an aristocracy, and it could “Americanize” the hundreds of thousands of Europeans who began arriving in the 1880s.

 

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Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted’s endeavors as a Civil War journalist and head of the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the first years of the Civil War have been featured in the NY Times Opinionator/Disunion series twice in the past 3 months. The latest article is in today’s edition, featuring Olmsted’s map of The Cotton Kingdom and the effects of a slave-based economy. An earlier article in July described the broader body of Olmsted’s work over that period of just a few years. Olmsted considered it his greatest contribution to his country. As a Southerner, I cannot help but note this part from today’s article:

For the next several years Olmsted sent back voluminous reports — published in three volumes — of disorder, poverty, inefficiency, backwardness and chaos. We might dismiss these as hopelessly biased Northern observations, yet these accounts gained a wide audience, and challenged the contemporary picture of the cotton south as an economic powerhouse. (emphasis added)

Um, yeah. But who can defend the status quo of the times?

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