Hygiene, school and children’s body in the Kingdom of Italy

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At the end of the nineteenth century hygiene became an important issue in Italy. The hygiene movement had a clear Positivistic stamp and was connected with Masonry. It carried out, aside the medical fight against contagious diseases, a vast popular campaign to educate people to hygienic themes. Hygiene and manners were tightly connected, in the effort of ameliorating the ‘degenerated’ poor Italians. School was gradually invested by this aim, in a double aspect. On one side, school buildings and environment had to promote health instead of diffusing illnesses. On the other side, hygiene had to be taught to children. The paper follows how hygiene became a subject, with 1894 elementary school programmes and 1905 ones, which introduced a public dimension aside personal hygiene. The 1923 programmes were written by G. Lombardo Radice, foremost educationalist, who curved the subject in a practical way. Fascism highlighted public hygiene and the regime efforts, connecting personal health and fitness to the strength and military power of the State. The paper examines textbooks for pupils and for teachers, highlighting how hygiene was taught, also with examples from school-exercise books and teachers’ diaries. The subject was always gendered, reserving to girls and woman children’s and house cleaning and to boys and men work hygiene. Doctors and paediatricians transmitted hygienic culture from the middle class to the popular classes and particularly to mothers. The teaching of hygiene assumed characters of body but also mind discipline that exceeded the aims of hygiene and intertwined with pedagogy and political ideology. In the programmes of democratic Italy, in 1945, Lombardo Radice’s pedagogical stamp was revived, aside Dewey’s attention to pupils’ personal research. In 1955 programmes hygiene disappeared: many medical battles were won, against contagious diseases, against infant mortality, and Progressive education did not accept a strong discipline and control on children’s bodies.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteEducation and the Body in Europe (1900-1950), Movements, public health, pedagogical rules and cultural ideas
EditorSimonetta Polenghi, András Németh, Tomáš Kasper
Numero di pagine20
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2021

Serie di pubblicazioni



  • fitness
  • military power
  • school-hygiene
  • strength
  • teaching of hygiene
  • textbooks


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