Frederick Law Olmsted and the Campaign for Public Health: Places: Design Observer

Landscape architects have long studied and admired Frederick Law Olmsted, often considered the founder of the field in the United States. But Olmsted had another career, distinctly different from landscape architecture and rarely studied by landscape historians. For two years during the Civil War, he served as the general secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission, which was dedicated to improving the sanitation of the Union Army’s military camps and the health of Union soldiers. This might seem like a detour in Olmsted’s career, an admirable but nevertheless tangential interlude in his progress as a landscape architect. But when we examine Olmsted’s Sanitary Commission work in light of the history of public health, it is clear that here — just as with his foundational work in public parks — Olmsted has set an example that landscape architects might follow in the future. To see where the field might venture in the 21st century, in other words, it is illuminating to chart an often-overlooked path that Olmsted pioneered in the mid-19th century. ..

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