4th November 1872 - James Burn Russell appointed Medical Officer of Health

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4th November 1872 - James Burn Russell appointed Medical Officer of Health

4th November 1872 marks the appointment by the Corporation of Glasgow of James Burn Russell as the first full time Medical Officer of Health in Scotland.

Russell’s appointment came at an important time for Glasgow. Rapid industrialisation had led to a massive increase in the city’s population from 77,000 in 1801 to around 500,000 when Russell took office. As Russell himself said in 1885 ‘The physical condition of overcrowding is the direct cause of disease’.
He held the post for 26 years. During his time in office the death rate per thousand declined from 28.4 in 1872 to 19.9 in 1894. He was a prolific and influential writer with his lecture ‘Life in One Room’  in particular emphasising to a middle class audience exactly what daily reality was like for the poorer majority.

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​D-HE/4/1/8/10 Housing conditions in Glasgow, 1897. The photograph is by Thomas Annan’s studio. It was conditions like these that motivated Russell’s famous lecture ‘Life in One Room’.
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​D-HE/1/5/4 Life in One Room, 1888. In this lecture Russell made the point that change had been lacking not through ‘a want of sympathy but because of want of knowledge’. He then went on to give an uncompromising vision of life for the 25% of the city living in one room.
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D-HE/4/4/7 Smoke pollution over Glasgow, 1912. Death rates from  lung disease meant action on smoke pollution was one of Russell’s priorities. As he said in one article ‘a man may eat bad butter once or twice a day, but if the air is bad he lives in it’.
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D-HE/7/1/2 James Burn Russell, c1890.
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