Fresh-Air Adaptive Schooling Worked During the Bubonic Plague In 1665

While the topic of whether or not to return to in-person schooling is a complex one in a pandemic, the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic was not the first time that universities and schools were forced to grapple with the question. In 1665, a young Isaac Newton was sent home from Cambridge University to his family’s farm following an outbreak of bubonic plague. 

It was on that farm that he allegedly witnessed the falling apple that led to his law of universal gravitation. While fresh air doesn’t always lead to fresh ideas, it was used to help contain the Tuberculosis outbreak in the early 1900s that claimed 450 American lives a day—many of them children. Germany pioneered the concept of open-air schools, and by 1918, over 130 American cities had them. 

The movement toward fresh air also inspired city planners to create more green spaces to promote public health. During the second wave of the Spanish flu outbreak in the fall of 1918, public schools in Chicago and New York stayed open. At the time, New York City’s health commissioner told the New York Times: “[Children] leave their often unsanitary homes for large, clean, airy school buildings, where there is always a system of inspection and examination enforced.”

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