Slouch: The Forgotten History of America's Poor Posture Epidemic


ACLS Fellowship Program


History and Sociology of Science


“Slouch” charts the rise and fall of the poor posture epidemic in the twentieth-century United States. The book project traces how a new imperative for erect posture arose in the 1890s from a complex interplay among medical, moral, and aesthetic concerns, and how, over the course of the following century, it seeped into everyday American life, informing daily beauty rituals, federally funded public health campaigns, parenting customs, and workplace environments. The project also takes seriously the existence of noncontagious disease outbreaks, demonstrating how, in a century of increasing “germ panic,” more conventional notions of hygiene, social contagion, and bodily stigmata became reformulated within a biomedical framework. As such, it brings the history of epidemics—often focused solely on communicable and deadly diseases—into conversation with critical disability studies. “Slouch” also serves as an example of an early wellness campaign that encouraged a quantified notion of selfhood.