Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn Tuberculosis Committee’

A Brooklyn anti-spitting ad to bring back today

March 23, 2020

Public health messaging doesn’t get more straightforward than this ad, which in plain language told the people of Brooklyn to stop “careless” spitting. (Is there any other kind?)

The Brooklyn Tuberculosis Committee put out the ad, probably in the 1910s. Is it time to bring back this message and add “coronavirus” to the list of diseases that can be spread by spit?

The ad was part of a 2011 Ephemeral New York post on the anti-spitting law passed in New York in 1896, which called for a $500 fine for anyone caught hocking a loogie in public. The aim of the law was to reduce rates of illnesses transmitted by respiratory fluids, many of which were at epidemic levels in poor neighborhoods and often fatal…not unlike the disease New York is trying to get under control in 2020.

[Ad courtesy of J. Warren]

New York City’s novel anti-spitting law of 1896

May 16, 2011

The nasty habit was commonly done on sidewalks and in streetcars. But health officials knew that spitting spread lethal diseases, especially tuberculosis, a leading cause of death in crowded, dank neighborhoods.

So in 1896, forward-thinking New York became the first city to outlaw “expectorating,” as the practice was delicately called in the gay nineties.

Signs went up on public transportation and other spitting hot spots, warning of arrest and a $500 fine. But the new ordinance generated controversy and wasn’t always taken seriously.

“In New York, of the 2,513 arrested, there were 2,099 convicted, one of every seven escaping,” writes a 1910 New York Times article.

“The total fines were $1,936.80, an average of less than $1.”

Even citizens vehemently against the habit railed that the ban was understandable, but unenforceable.

Not allowing people to spit might even be dangerous, according to one letter writer to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in February 1896, before New York adopted its law:

“No law can be made strong enough to prohibit public expectoration. The health of the individual might often suffer from such a restraint. But it is easy for the many who must spit to do so in the street instead of on the sidewalk.”

[Brooklyn Tuberculosis Committee clipping courtesy of J. Warren]