The God of Hygiene: Luis E. Ruiz and the Campaign for Cremation in Mexico City, 1870s–1909

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:30 PM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center)
Amanda M. López, Saint Xavier University
This paper examines the public health campaign to implement the practice of cremation in Mexico City in the late nineteenth century. The campaign was led by hygienist Luis E. Ruiz as well as a variety of doctors and public health officials who argued that cremation was the most modern and civilized form of burial. Cremation, banned by the Catholic Church in 1886, was a hard sell in a staunchly Catholic and traditional country. Cremationists employed a variety of arguments to support their cause, but this paper will focus exclusively on its perceived benefits to public health. Mexican advocates attended international public health conferences, read international journals, and applied and adapted these ideas to their own society. Not only were these conversations held within the hygienist community, but also disseminated through the capital’s liberal newspapers in editorials and articles.  Thus, the cremationists targeted the elite population of the city to support their cause. Despite a shared support for cremation, I will show that the public health arguments for its implementation did not form a homogenous voice. Ruiz, more than any other supporter, saw cremation as “truth” and “goodness,” and the only civilized practice for modern Mexicans. In contrast, many other supporters’ arguments reveal that their underlying motivation was the desire to eliminate the perceived threat of poor bodies to Mexico’s “Order and Progress” and did not intend it as an elite practice.
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