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A Hungarian University Health Protection System in the Reflection of Treaty of Versailles (1924-1947) [1] by Adrienn Sztana-Kovacs

In our blog post we would like to point out why it was so important to organize a proper health-care system at the Royal Hungarian Elizabeth University [2]. Surprisingly the examination of the question showed more aspects than appeared at first. Under the analyzing process of the documents it became clear there were some larger objectives behind the acts than the benefits of the students. There were two elements of the initiatives, the acts of the government and the universities on the field of the health protection of students.[3]

Naturally the first and most important element of the examinations was to get a general knowledge about the state of the students’ health and to provide treatment if needed. Chiefly the high death rate from Tuberculosis (TB) justified the steps.[4]

Earlier we mentioned there was another element behind the scenes, rooted in the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.[5] Among these other elements, was the limitation of the army and the prohibition of the universal compulsory military service.[6] The Hungarian government’s answers to those points were to introduce compulsory physical education[7] to every man under 21, and to establish a special Hungarian paramilitary youth organization Levente.[8] Its declared purpose was physical training and a kind of not stated one was giving some basic military education.[9]

Compulsory Physical Education and the Related Healthcare Examination

At the Elisabeth University compulsory physical education for men was introduced from the 1926/1927 academic year,[10] but the related healthcare examination only began in the 1927/28 academic year. In its first year of the 380 freshmen only 205 attended and from these 54 were sent for further treatment because of diffrent pathological changes.[11] The great depression had broken this initiative. In 1933 dr. János Ángyán [12] laid his proposal before the Council of Medical Faculty about institutionalizing the examinations of the students at Elisabeth University, which in the new settings took place in the school year of 1936/37.

Janos Angyan. Source:

There are only three reports about three consecutive academic years.[13] The participation rate differed among the faculties. It was high among the freshmen of the Medical Faculty and of the Faculty of Arts, however, only 22% of the Faculty of Law participated at the beginning and only showed a minimal rise later.[14]

Source: Pécs University Archives, reference number: VIII. 105. a. 1936/37. academic year, XI. meeting, 21st of June in 1937. 49. point
Edited by the author

The examination included a gauge of case histories of the families, physical qualities and mental abilities. Students were questioned about their training habits and it turned out there were some serious issues around the compulsory PE.

Sources: Pécs University Archives, reference number: VIII. 105. a. 1936/37. academic year, XI. meeting, 21st of June in 1937. 49. point. VIII. 105. a. 1937/38. academic year, X. meeting, 22nd of June in 1938. 30 point; VIII. 105. a. 1938/39. academic year, IX. meeting 26th of May in 1939. 18. point. Edited by the author

The most important factor was that the examiners didn’t find anyone with Tuberculosis in those three years, despite the fact that most of the students had been healed from primary or secondary TB infection. There was a difference on the field of the venereal diseases. Every year the doctors found some students with previous gonorrhoea and in the last year two students had primary syphilis infection and two students had inherited syphilis.

There were some students every year suffering from high bloodpresure or arrhythmia.[15] Also there was a high rate of different physical deformities, for example: flat foot, chest disfiguration or joint problem. Almost 50% of the freshmen needed some sight correction. According to professor Ángyán’s reports most of the students’s families had difficulties with personal hygiene. This was proven by the high number of seborrohea and mycosis.

The data from the 1937/38 academic year allows us to get a glimpse of the nutritional state of the students and their smoking habits as well.

Source: Pécs University Archives, reference number: VIII. 105. a. 1937/38. academic year, X. meeting, 22nd of June in 1938. 30 point. Edited by the author


Sources: VIII. 105. a. 1937/38. academic year, X. meeting, 22nd of June in 1938. 30 point; VIII. 105. a. 1938/39. academic year, IX. meeting 26th of May in 1939. 18. point. Edited by the author

Unfortunately we don’t have the latest record before the examinations were suspended during the war after 1940. The management planned to restart it again in 1947, however, no data survived from this period. From these reports we can form an opinion of the different aspects of the students’ health, of the state of the general health and nutrition conditions and of the health education of the families. At the end of the 1940s the political climate had changed in the country but the fight against the infectious diseases remained the focus point for the management of the universities and the government as well.

This blog is Adrienn’s third installment. Her previous blogs can be found here: Summer Universities, within the international relationships of the Hungarian Royal Erzsébet University between 1920-1946 and here: The other spaces of education – beyond the university. The student hostels of the Hungarian Royal Elisabeth University between 1923 and 1941. You can follow Adrienn on Twitter @AdriennSzkovacs


[1] The original paper was published in Hungarian: Kovács, Adrienn: Az Erzsébet Tudományegyetem hallgatóinak egészségvédelme 1924–1950. [Health Protection of the Students of the Elisabeth University. 1924-1950] Orvostörténeti Közlemények, Communicationes De Historia Artis Medicinae 214217 (2011), 155172.

[2] You can read about the deatils of the foundation and the movements in our previous blog post: Summer Universities, within the international relationships of the Hungarian Royal Elisabeth University between 1920 and 1946.

[3] Beside the University Council of Royal Hungarian Elisabeth University there were other universities and civil organizations in the country to stand up and fight against contagions such as Tuberculosis (TB) and venereal diseases (VD). Their initiatives were carefully considered by the University Council and it took proper action in each and every case.

[4] In 1920 the population of the country was 7. 9 million and the number of the deaths caused by TB was 25000. In 1940 17000 people died from TB out of a 9.1 million population. People called TB ’Morbus Hungaricus’ [Hungarian disease] since the begining of the 20th century. (Originally typhus was called Morbus Hungaricus in the 16th century.)

[5] In the case of the Hungary Kingdom it was the Treaty of Trianon named after the palace where the Hungarian deputation signed it in 1920. The Hungarian Kingdom lost three-quarters of its territory. The population of the newly formed country was 7.9 million in contrast to the former 20.9 million and 31% of the Hungarian nationals were left outside the new borders.

[6] The army was limited in 35000 officers and men. Heavy artillery, tanks and air force were prohibited. Romsics, Ignác: Magyarország története a XX. században. [History of Hungary in the 20th Century] Budapest. 2000. 145.

[7] LIII/1921. Act of Physical Education

[8]VKM 9000/1924 Enacting clauses of the LIII/1921 of the Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs. The Levente organization worked from January 1924 to March 1945. In January 1944 there were 1.3 million members. The leaders were retired officers who gave basic firearms training.

[9] II/1939. Act of Defence. All boys between ages 12 and 21 were required to enroll in the Levente organization. The organization was regulated by the Ministry of Defence since 1939.

[10] For female students the physical education was on a voluntary basis in separate groups under the lead of a lady PE teacher.

[11] Pécs University Archives, reference number: VIII. 105. a. 1927/28. academic year, VIII. meeting, 23rd of March in 1928. 13th point.

[12] János Ángyán (1886-1969) medical professor of the Hungarian Royal Elisabeth University.

[13] 1936/37; 1937/38; 1938/39

[14] Only one third of the law students went to the university classes. The other two-third of them usually had a job and they just travelled to Pécs to take their exams.

[15] In the 1937/38 academic year, 25% of the students had arrhythmia.