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[Detail] See America. Alexander Dux

6. Public Health

The WPA also had federal health agencies that provided services to address disease epidemics and to raise public awareness. A search on health produces posters that emphasize a number of proactive approaches to health care.

Some pieces emphasize preventive efforts such as tests and examinations for manageable diseases such as gonorrhea, smallpox, syphilis, and tuberculosis. For example, one poster promoting treatment for syphilis declares, "Shame may be fatal: If you fear you have contracted a disease don't let false shame destroy health & happiness."


A search on cancer produces posters that address a disease for which there were no comparable, successful treatments. Pieces such as "Obey Cancer's Danger Signals" and "The Only Safe Weapons Against Cancer" emphasize the importance of early detection and treatment while acknowledging that there isn't a single cure for the disease. "Beware the Cancer Quack" attempts to protect patients from additional suffering at the hands of physicians who advertise cancer treatments, promise a cure, or demand payment in advance.

Other posters emphasized the importance of preventive efforts such as "community sanitation planning" and proper nutrition. For example, milk is advertised "for health, good teeth, vitality, endurance, strong bones" and as a solution for both "winter warmth" and "summer thirst."

  • How did these posters attempt to deal with both curable and incurable conditions? What actions were recommended in each case? Why do you think that the federal government was interested in promoting such actions?
  • How do sanitation and nutrition relate to these actions?
  • Who do you think benefits from these actions and their promotion? Why?

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