The scourge of tuberculosis

The scourge of tuberculosis

  • Tuberculosis is a big scourge.


  • The hygiene visitor will show you the path to health.

    LEROUX Auguste (1871 - 1954)

  • Crush tuberculosis and save childhood.

Tuberculosis is a big scourge.

© Contemporary Collections

The hygiene visitor will show you the path to health.

© Contemporary Collections

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Title: Crush tuberculosis and save childhood.

Author :

Creation date : 1917

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Technique and other indications: Poster of the American tuberculosis preservation commission in France

Storage location: The contemporary. Library, archives, museum of contemporary worlds website

Contact copyright: © Contemporary Collections

Crush tuberculosis and save childhood.

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: October 2005


The scourge of tuberculosis


Historical context

A social scourge

The Great War is accompanied by an increase in tuberculosis mortality. The death rate caused by this scourge reached 2 per 1000 in 1917 and then declined.

This disease constitutes the major target of the hygienist currents which multiplied at the turn of the century. These posters are one form of it.

Image Analysis

A prevention campaign

A first poster represents an ordinary city street scene. Buildings crowded along cramped arteries prevent a glimpse of the sky and create a stifling and fetid atmosphere signified by the palette that borrows uniformly from the ocher and its gradations. From a building window, a woman is shaking a laundry without regard for children passing by with their milk jug. Behind a dark storefront, “parents are drinking”. In the foreground, a too heavily loaded mother is talking to a man almost in rags (her husband, out of the cafe?). Behind them, a manhole cover, garbage littering the street. Beside them, a heap of garbage where a dog and a kid are rummaging in concert, in parallel postures. In the background, another kid, disabled, and groups mostly made up of women and children, in turn receiving trash from a window. "France, homeland of bacteriology is also the homeland of bacteria," wrote the Chicago Tribune (July 1917). Through the only gap that could let in the sun and the air, the Grim Reaper enters, an image of death popularized by the macabre dances that endured for the great medieval plagues to multiply.

On a second poster (Auguste Leroux, 1918), a hygiene visitor wearing the double cross on her sleeve, a symbol of the international fight against tuberculosis, protects a little girl wearing a Phrygian cap. She "shows him the path to health" and embarks on this path with resolute steps, reflected by the diagonal of the construction and by the aesthetics at work. On the horizon, the Paris of the West, clear and signified by its prestigious monuments and above all by its open sky.

The last poster hints at the imminent victory as a participating character of the nurse (in white attire) and a winged goddess (the tricolor) crushes evil, represented by the octopus. She can now victoriously brandish the child she has snatched from death, in a general movement of ascension that borrows from the liturgical representations of the 17th century.


Hygienism and nationalism

These posters borrow from a wide variety of styles to convey the same message: the necessary protection of children, at the heart of each performance. They mobilize naturalism, allegories and a whole series of codes agreed upon and largely reactivated during the war; thus the octopus, this incarnation of evil, the Phrygian cap which owes its tricolor cockade to signify the homeland more than the Republic. As for the poster accusing the unhealthy city, it mobilizes all hygienic clichés, graphically codified before the war.

Two of these posters are a call to mobilization, as indicated by the use of the imperative. This mobilization is part of the patriotic struggle. As proof, the term "crusade", the martial air of this nurse who can just as well signify the American ally, protecting on this front as she does on others France, represented by her Phrygian cap; for a victory that the third poster, said quite well national. (two posters of the same origin express it even more clearly: "The boche eagle will be defeated, tuberculosis too", "The boche eagle is defeated, tuberculosis must be too"). These posters show the weapons to be used in order to win: a redefined urban planning of which the Paris of the West (where tuberculosis mortality is significantly lower) is the expression. Social control, here symbolized by the rigor and uniform of this woman soldier for a just cause, is given as her indispensable auxiliary.

  • cafes
  • demography
  • childhood
  • hygiene
  • sickness
  • nationalism


Pierre GUIKAUME Tuberculosis, from despair to salvation, 19th-20th century Paris, Aubier, 1986. Lion MURARD and Patrick ZYLBERMAN "The Rockefeller mission in France and the creation of the national committee for the defense against tuberculosis, 1917-1923" in Modern and contemporary history review , February 1987.Maurice AGULHON Marianne's Metamorphoses Paris, Flammarion, 2001.

To cite this article

Danielle TARTAKOWSKY, "The scourge of tuberculosis"

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