“The backlash against this not-exactly-radical healthcare reform was so severe that doctors who had already practiced some form of personal hygiene stopped doing so… Over the next three years, childbirth mortalities almost tripled.”
In 19th century Vienna, it was probably safer to give birth in the street than in a hospital. Almost one in five births assisted by a male doctor ended with the mother, the child or both dying for mysterious reasons.
The best explanation anyone had was that babies are naturally shy and will spontaneously die when seeing a male doctor.
Ignaz Semmelweis didn’t buy that load of crap, and instead embarked upon a large scale study, discovering that doctors often went to assist births immediately after doing autopsies.
Apparently the least stupid scientist in all of Vienna, he concluded that the problem probably had something to do with the practice of handling a rotting corpse and a freshly born baby one after the other.
His recommendation was simply that doctors should take 30 seconds to wash their hands somewhere between the morgue and the maternity ward
Unfortunately, the scientific community violently rejected the idea of hand washing, because it offended their status as gentlemen.