From social hygiene to academic preventative medicine

 As a man aware of the medical challenges of his time, Kahn knew the importance of prevention in public health.

At the end of the 19th century, France stood out in Europe due to a decrease in birth rates. Prevention against the “major social plagues” – the trio of alcoholism, tuberculosis and syphilis, first and foremost – was already inscribed in a patriotic, pro-natalist perspective, which the losses from World War I only exacerbated.


This terror of depopulation was at the origin of a positive social hygiene policy (large families, child protection, prevention against diseases, etc.)


Questions of public health predominated the CNESP’s sessions at the end of the 1920s, specifically when the laws of 1928 and 1930 instituting social security were enacted: the return of Alsace-Moselle to France had made this point crucial since these regions had benefited, during German annexation, from the protection system established by the Bismarck as of 1883.


Aware of the medical challenges of his time, Kahn knew the importance of prevention in public health. The idea for preventative medical centers was circulated in France by Dr. Georges Schreiber, upon his return from the United States in 1922. There, the physician had visited the Life Extension Institute prevention centers, widely appreciated by life insurance companies.


In 1929, the first French center for preventative medicine was created at the University of Strasbourg, thanks to Albert Kahn’s financing via the CNESP. Tuberculosis was one of the main dangers that this non-mandatory service screened for free.


At the end of the year, the question invested the political realm with the birth of the Socialist Party of Public Health, founded by the radical socialist Justin Godart. Its secretary general was Dr. Schreiber. It mainly focused on persuading the State to coordinate private charities that focused on hygiene, prevention and prophylaxis.