Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » When Garbage Pickup Was a Gospel Subject

When Garbage Pickup Was a Gospel Subject

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 20, 2012

While Juvenile Instructor offers you today Jenny R.’s introduction to Victorian hair art in Mormon history, and a discussion by Jared Farmer of his new Mormon pictorial history, I offer you something … less elevated … less artistic …

I offer you typhoid. House flies. Barnyard filth.

Well, why not? This was a topic for discussion in the adult Sunday School classes in the fall of 1913. No kidding.

Typhoid and Its Prevention

By Dr. Geo. W. Middleton

Perhaps the greatest advance in modern medicine was the discovery that most if not all the diseases human beings are subject to are produced by microscopic organisms called bacteria. These organisms have well recognized methods of growth, and they can be produced with as much certainty as the farmer can grow wheat and corn. The two indispensable things for their growth are proper nutriment and a temperature approximating that of the human body. Given these conditions and a little care in the transplanting, a copious crop of most any bacterium can be matured in a few hours. In nature the food for bacteria is furnished by decaying plants or animals. They can hardly grow anywhere else except on decaying organic matter. The necessary temperature is furnished by the summer heat or the artificial heat of houses. The great period of bacterial grow this naturally then the summer time. In polar regions, and away from artificial heat in the winter season, bacterial organisms do not grow.

Many bacteria serve a useful purpose in the world, such as the bacillus lacticus which causes coagulation of milk, and the bacterium termo, which effects the reduction of organic matter to its primary elements. If it were not for the work of the bacterium termo the surface of the earth would soon become a charnel house of putrefaction, and animal and human life would be an impossible thing. Many other bacteria are harmful in their results, producing the symptoms of disease when they establish their colonies in the animal or human body. These we call pathogenic bacteria, and we have learned the life methods of a great many of them, and are able by proper application of our knowledge to prevent their ravages.

One of the most common of the pathogenic bacteria is the bacillus of typhoid fever. this organism under the microscope looks like an aggregation of minute rods. It grows readily at body temperature, and is able to thrive on most any form of decomposing organic matter. Ordinary milk is one of its favorite foods, and in this pabulum it multiplies into millions in an incredibly short time. It grows also in water which has been contaminated with organic matter, and in this way it often causes widespread epidemics of typhoid fever. In each of these great epidemics, such as the one at Plymouth, Pa., and the one at Maidstone, England, it has been discovered that the water supply had been contaminated by sewage and infected by previous cases of typhoid somewhere in the drainage basin of the water supply. In many German cities where the supply of culinary water is properly guarded, typhoid fever has become a thing of the past. Students in the hospitals wait for months before they are able to see a case.

In the valleys of the Rocky Mountains typhoid fever is altogether too common. It is a reflection on our civilization. It could be prevented if we lived up to the knowledge we possess. How are we to go about it?

Knowing that the only source of our danger is from existing cases and from decomposing organic matter, which furnishes the pabulum for the growth of the germ outside of the human body, we can take proper precautions with any given case to prevent the poison from becoming disseminated, and we can keep our premises from accumulating the filth that bacteria grow on.

He who said that cleanliness is next to Godliness was not far from the truth, both from the aesthetic as well as from the sanitary standpoint. The product of the barn yard furnishes not only the soil for bacterial growth but it breeds the housefly, which is the special messenger for the distribution of typhoid terms. Uncovered garbage cans serve the same purpose.

In view of our knowledge of the causes of disease, filth in any form is a menace to health and life. It is an inconsistent thing to pray for health, and at the same time harbor the causes of disease all around us. Our most effectual prayers are those which are coupled with the will to help out the ways or Providence with our own effort.

The expenditure of a few cents per capita in our communities would insure proper patrol of the watershed which furnishes the water we drink. Is it not worth a few cents each year to be assured that we are drinking pure water? Inspection of our milk supply, and of other sources of our food has been tentatively begun, but we need it carried out with precision. It should be a criminal offense for a baker to deliver bread or other products of his establishment which have been contaminated by the feet of flies, or for grocers to expose fruits without proper screening in fly time, and then offer them for sale. It should be a criminal offense for people to keep about their premises, whether in city or country, the accumulated filth of barn yards. A more frequent collection of garbage would be a great advantage. Sanitary measures add something to the cost of living, but we must live, and we ought to live right. Health and happiness are our birthright. But they will not be thrust upon us against our will. Let us add to the natural salubrity of these beautiful valleys of the mountains the additional advantage that intelligent methods of sanitation can bring and our exaltation will be not only one of position, but one of social condition that shall place us in the vanguard of the onward march of civilization.

Suggestive Topics.

Discuss the following questions:

1.What are the danger spots for disease in your community?

2. What has been done? What can be done? What will be done to clean up the disease breeding places?

3.What have you in the way of health officers? What are their duties? How do they perform them? What can you do to help them?

4. Investigate these things:

a. Source of water supply.

b. Methods of the grocery shops in handling perishable foods.

c. General sanitation of the city.

5. Set on foot some plan that will bring results


While it may seem odd, even uncomfortable, to consider this a Sunday School lesson, it may not feel quite as odd if we considered it as a ward or branch discussion in some less developed regions of the world today. Mormons, more than most, connect the physical body, its health and surroundings, to divinity. In that sense, this is a highly Mormon Sunday lesson, no?



  1. Ardis, Yes! this is thoroughly Mormon kingdom building, with no compartmentalizing of “religion” from every day life. I love it.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — September 20, 2012 @ 7:44 am

  2. Sounds to me like he’s preaching socialism!! This would never fly in the 21st century church.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 20, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  3. I’m glad my ancestors got this lesson.

    Comment by Grant — September 20, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  4. Loved this sentence:

    Our most effectual prayers are those which are coupled with the will to help out the ways or Providence with our own effort.

    I remember being taught in high school that the reason garbage pickup was weekly was that the incubation period for housefly larva is 8 days.

    Interesting that he mentioned Germany being ahead of the United States in antiseptic procedures, as Europe was a couple of decades ahead of US doctors and hospitals in giving credence to Pasteur’s germ theory. President Garfield almost certainly would have survived his bullet wounds in 1881 had he not had a succession of doctors all sticking their dirty unwashed fingers down the bullet wound in his back over a period of weeks.

    Comment by kevinf — September 20, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  5. I suppose that houseflies’ larvae incubate faster in New York–everything is faster here! Therefore, garbage is picked up twice a week. : )

    Comment by Mark B. — September 20, 2012 @ 11:54 am

  6. Faster than a speeding taxi driver, more powerful than a Glad Garbage bag, able to leap tall metaphorical boundaries…Superfly!

    Comment by kevinf — September 20, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

  7. It is interesting, and I think historically accurate, that a lesson like this on Sunday would likely result in a town council decision on Tuesday, in many Mormon communities.

    I read recently that Mormons were the first “Shop Local” organizers, and were about a hundred years ahead of their time. I have read any of the lessons that addressed this issue from the time period of Brigham Young, but I have heard older members talk about the impact of those lessons on their grandparents. (Have I just not yet found them in the archives?)

    I am kind of proud of our former leaders who wanted to both protect the members with information, while spurring them on to immediate action, rather to form a political committee to do a longitudinal study with control groups and a segregated system to determine the most deaths. :-)

    Comment by Julia — September 20, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  8. I have to tell this story.
    At girls’ camp, one girl came running over all excited and almost yelled, “I just found out that mosquitoes only live three days!” We nodded but asked what all the excitement was about. She rolled her eyes and said, “Don’t you get it? We’ve been here since Monday. Today’s the third day!” She thought we wouldn’t get any more bites at camp.

    Comment by Carol — September 20, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

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