This section is from the "The Young Mother. Management of Children in Regard to Health" book, by William A. Alcott. Also available from Amazon: The Young Mother
It is, however, true, that years sometimes intervene, before the evil consequences of dirtiness appear. The office of the vessels of the skin being interrupted, an increase of action is imposed on other parts, especially on those internal organs commonly called glands, which action is apt to settle into obstinate disease. Hence, at least when aided by other causes, often arise, in later life, after the source of the evil is forgotten, if it were ever suspected, rheumatism, scrofula, jaundice, and even consumption.
There is a strange notion abroad, that the smell of the earth is beneficial, especially to consumptive persons. I honestly believe, however, that it is more likely to create consumption than to cure it. Besides, in what does this smell consist? Do the silex, the alumine, and the other earths, with their compounds, emit any odor? Rarely, I believe, unless when mixed with vegetable matter. But no gases necessary to health are evolved during the decomposition of vegetable matter; on the contrary, it is well known that many of them tend to induce disease.
I am thoroughly persuaded that too much attention cannot be paid to cleanliness; and the demand for such attention is equally imperious in the case of those who cultivate the earth, or labor in it, or on stone, during the intervals of their useful avocations, as in the case of those individuals who follow other employments.
I must also protest against the doctrine, that the smell or taste of the earth, much less a coat of it spread over the surface, and closing up, for hours and days together, thousands and millions of those little pores with which the Author of this "wondrous frame" has pierced the skin, can have a salutary tendency.
The opinion has been even maintained, that uncleanly habits are not only unfavorable to health, but to morality. There can be no doubt that he who neglects his person and dress will be found lower in the scale of morals, other things being equal, than he who pays a due regard to cleanliness.
Some have supposed that a disposition to neglect personal cleanliness was indicative of genius. But this opinion is grossly erroneous, and has well nigh ruined many a young man.
I am far from recommending any degree of fastidiousness on this subject. Truth and correct practice usually lie between extremes. But I do and must insist, that the connection between cleanliness of body and purity of moral character, is much more close and direct than has usually been supposed.
But to return to the more immediate effects of cleanliness on health. There is one class of diseases in particular which, in an eminent degree, owe their origin to a neglect of cleanliness. I refer to the bowel complaints so common among children during summer and autumn. Except in case of teething, the use of unripe fruits, or the abuse of those which are in themselves excellent, it is probable that more than half of the bowel complaints of the young are either produced or greatly aggravated by a foul skin.
The importance of washing the whole body in water will be insisted on in the chapter on Bathing; it is therefore unnecessary to say anything farther on that subject in this place, except to observe that whether the washings of the body be partial or general, they should be thorough, so far as they are carried. There are thousands of children who, in pretending to wash their hands and face, will do little more than wet the inside of their hands, and the tips of their noses and ears unless great care is taken.
Few things are more important than suitable changes of dress. There are those, who, from principle, never wear the same under-garment but one day without washing, either in summer or winter; and there are others who, though they may wear an article without washing two or three successive days, take care to change their dress at night—never sleeping in a garment which they have worn during the day.
It is a very common objection to suggestions like these, that they will do very well for those who have wealth, but not for the poor;—that they have neither the time nor the means of attending to them. How can they change their clothes every day? we are asked. And how can they afford to have a separate dress for the night?
There must be retrenchment in some other matters, it is admitted. In order to find time for more washing, or money to pay others for the labor, the poor must deny themselves a few things which they now suppose, if they have ever thought at all on the subject, are conducive to their happiness—but which are in reality either useless or injurious. Something may be saved by a reasonable dress, as I have already shown. Other items of expense, which might be spared with great advantage to health and happiness, and applied to the purpose in question, will be mentioned in the chapter on Food and Drink.