Labour colonies and public health
in Working men’s bodies
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The physical deterioration debate, as well as wider concerns over the poor law’s failure to deal with the sick and infirm, led a number of public bodies to explore the idea of the labour colony as a therapeutic community. The value of the labour colony lay in its combination of physical isolation with ready access to fresh air and plentiful work. As well as being therapeutic, work ensured that the ‘clients’ made an economic contribution to their own upkeep, while isolation served the eugenic purpose of inhibiting breeding. Labour colonies were developed for alcoholics (particularly women alcoholics), epileptics, tuberculosis sufferers, and the ‘feeble-minded’. As a consequence, they became both centres of treatment and research, facilitating the development of expertise among both professionals and specialist volunteers.

Working men’s bodies

Work camps in Britain, 1880–1940

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