The National Health Society was established in 1871 through the initiative of Elizabeth Blackwell, and as the name suggests, aimed to spread contemporary knowledge about public health. Operating under the belief that prevention is better than cure, the Society professed to diffuse a sound knowledge of the laws of health, and of the measures likely to prevent the spread of disease throughout all classes of the community . In order to achieve this end, regular lectures were given on subjects as diverse as the Prevention of epidemic disease and the Effects of modern dress on health . The common element in all lectures was their ultimate impact on the health of the population. The guests of subscribing members could attend these lectures free of charge in the hope that ladies of wealth and leisure would be inspired to spread what they learned to their own household and gradually reach the working classes. The importance of educating the lower classes was certainly recognised and eventually penny lectures were introduced to make health education more accessible.
The Society was also active in the promotion of formal training for women and provided courses in house health, child care, nursing and ambulance work. These courses were examinable but gave women an unofficial qualification only. Perhaps the most significant was the National Health Society Diploma which was introduced in 1900 and equipped women to work as health visitors, a service which was designed specifically to benefit the poor. This was in common with many contemporary efforts, which focused on the general state of the population and the high death rate, and the Society was associated with a variety of eminent philanthropists. These included Sir Edwin Chadwick and Dr Hardwick, both of whom were concerned with working class living standards, and the impact of housing in particular.
The aims of the Society remained consistent into the twentieth century although the range of courses expanded and the number of subscribers grew. By 1920 the work of the National Health Society, and other similar societies, was recognised as so important that training was placed under the Board of Education and made official. The National Health Society then adapted to become an officially recognised training school. Training courses were still operating as late as 1947, the element of mothercraft and health visiting assuming an increasing level of importance once the mother had been confirmed as central to the health of the whole family. Since 1947 , however, the Society appears to have disbanded. The service provided was perhaps no longer necessary with the introduction of the official National Health Service in the immediate post-war years.
From the guide to the Records of the National Health Society, health education society, London, England, 1859-1995, (Glasgow University Archive Services)