Social Consequence of Disease in the American South, 1900 – World War II

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The early 20th century Southerner lived in a disease environment created by a confluence of poverty, climate and the legacy of slavery. A deadly trio of pellagra, hookworm and malaria enervated the poor Southerner-man, woman and child—creating a dull, weakened people ill equipped to prosper in the modern world. The Northern perceptions of the South as a backward and sickly region were only compounded by the realization that her population was malnourished, infected by worms, and continually plagued by agues and fevers. As historian John Duffy concluded, “As a chronically debilitating disease, it [malaria] shared with the other two the responsibility for the term ‘lazy Southerner.'”

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