Written by Anya Grahn
Left: Consumptives playing in front of an open-air cottage at the Wisconsin State Sanitarium (circa 1940). Right: Mae Panzenhagen Strong in front of the Wisconsin State Sanitarium where she had been a patient (circa 1945).
For centuries, the white plague -- also known as tuberculosis (TB) or consumption -- was considered an ailment of the poor. The rich often escaped the embarrassment of the disease by retreating to European health spas, while the poor continued to suffer with no relief. As the Industrial Revolution brought more workers into crowded urban centers, the plague spread and no one was immune.
Bacteriologist Robert Koch’s germ theory in 1882 provided better insight into the disease, and lent itself to explaining the spread of tuberculosis. State and local anti-tuberculosis organizations led social movements to improve sanitary conditions through anti-spitting laws and health regulations; encouraged consumptives to seek medical treatment; and persuaded state and local governments to create a network of state and county hospitals that isolated consumptives.
These sanitariums mark the beginning of government-funded campaigns to address tuberculosis. At these sites, consumptives spent years seeking a cure through prescribed regimens of fresh air and sunlight. Located away from local urban populations, these self-sufficient medical complexes became isolated communities containing a series of buildings that provided housing for patients and staff, medical and administrative offices, utility plants, and other uses. While many of these structures have been lost, others have found new uses as housing developments, medical facilities, and even museums.... Read More →
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