One of the central tenets of public health is the belief that the practice of medicine serves the broader community; however, the specific meaning of the phrase “public health” is a historically contingent one. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, the public included only white, bourgeois men who met in coffee houses and other such establishments to discuss politics, business ventures, and popular culture. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the “public” included white working class men, the poor, women, and people of color. Eventually, politicians and medical doctors recognized that children should be included as part of the “public” when discussing the spread of contagious diseases. So too, the understanding of “health” has evolved beyond the quarantine of contagious diseases or the containment of miasmas to the discovery of bacteria and viruses and the vaccinations/inoculations to fight them. Later in the twentieth century, physicians and politicians tied physical and mental wellbeing to environment, requiring not only the healthful oversight of food and drink establishments and city streets for possible contagion, but also the management of unsanitary living arrangements that negatively impacted mind and body. Public health became more of a preventive measure to safeguard the community.
Moon, Krystyn R., "A Brief History of Public Health in Alexandria and Alexandria's Health Department" (2014). History and American Studies. 6.