The album that he compiled chronicles his study of child welfare and public health issues. The photographs depict dilapidated schools and homes, poorly dressed and diseased students, inoculated children, hygiene and nutrition classes, and sanitation advances. The CDH’s biggest challenges in this grassroots effort were convincing rural parents to overcome their mistrust of the outside world and making lifestyle changes (e.g., nutrition) would improve their children’s health. According to Dr. Mary S. Hoffschwelle, an historian and expert on the Rutherford County project, the mission of improving child health hid a more ambitious goal: convincing rural counties to financially support and staff their own public health facilities. Twenty-seven communities in Rutherford County -- including such places as Christiana, Smyrna, Walter Hill, Eagleville, and Lascassas -- participated in the child health demonstration.
Rural health experiments, a legacy of the Progressive Movement and its social reform-minded adherents, focused on safe, compassionate, and efficiently delivered care. Because of the movement’s vast industrial reform, many associate progressivism with urban environments. The Mustard Album reveals that a good portion of the reform efforts encompassed agrarian interests, traditionally the backbone of the American economy. Impoverished Tennessee, with its racial and geographical diversity, was the ideal place to test the progressive theories of the child health demonstration.
Health problems were common among the rural poor and included such diseases and conditions as diphtheria, intestinal parasites, typhoid, tuberculosis, rickets, scarlet fever, and poor dental care and diet. Such conditions can be partially explained because 31 percent of the population was illiterate, leaving rural people medically uneducated. The program was successful in combating illiteracy in great part because of the close organization between parents and teachers. The album shows the progression toward improved public health care among both white and African-American families. Public health care and knowledge of self-care were almost nonexistent before the fund began its study. As soon as families made the recommended applications, the health landscape began to improve. Schools competed with each other for awards recognizing their progress. By the time the study ended in 1928, the county had built the Rutherford Hospital and inspired the Division of Public Health to operate field units in other counties. Dr. Mustard became the county’s first public health officer.
Visitors to the State Library and Archives website are invited to come explore Dr. Mustard’s images. Check it out here!
The Tennessee State Library and Archives is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. Parking is available in front, behind and beside the building.
The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.