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Saving Sickly Children

Saving Sickly Children: The Tuberculosis Preventorium in American Life, 1909-1970

Cynthia A. Connolly
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Saving Sickly Children
    Book Description:

    Known as "The Great Killer" and "The White Plague," few diseases influenced American life as much as tuberculosis. Sufferers migrated to mountain or desert climates believed to ameliorate symptoms. Architects designed homes with sleeping porches and verandas so sufferers could spend time in the open air. The disease even developed its own consumer culture complete with invalid beds, spittoons, sputum collection devices, and disinfectants. The "preventorium," an institution designed to protect children from the ravages of the disease, emerged in this era of Progressive ideals in public health.In this book, Cynthia A. Connolly provides a provocative analysis of public health and family welfare through the lens of the tuberculosis preventorium. This unique facility was intended to prevent TB in indigent children from families labeled irresponsible or at risk for developing the disease. Yet, it also held deeply rooted assumptions about class, race, and ethnicity. Connolly goes further to explain how the child-saving themes embedded in the preventorium movement continue to shape children's health care delivery and family policy in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4594-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Chapter 1 Child-saving in the United States
    (pp. 1-25)

    Just a few miles off the New Jersey Turnpike, one of the world’s busiest highways, sits a cluster of buildings with an adjacent golf course. The only clue to what was once housed here is the address on “Preventorium Road.” As the region’s rural character drained away over time, so did the common memory of an institution once considered so key to preventing tuberculosis (TB) in children that newspapers throughout the United States and Europe celebrated its founding.

    Although little remembered today, these residential institutions for children—preventoria—could be found across the United States during the early decades of...

  6. Chapter 2 Tuberculosis: A Children’s Disease
    (pp. 26-47)

    Until the turn of the twentieth century, many Americans believed in the idea of a “golden age” of immunity from tuberculosis for children, especially for those between the ages of five and fifteen years. The little available demographic data appeared to support this assumption. In most locations, children did die much less frequently than older adolescents and adults. In 1900, for example, the tuberculosis death rate for children in the United States between the ages of five and nine years was 2.2 per 1,000, lower than for any age group excepting those over eighty years old. In contrast, the death...

  7. Chapter 3 Founding the Preventorium
    (pp. 48-75)

    On June 14, 1907, Clemens von Pirquet announced in a dramatic presentation to the Vienna meeting of the Imperial and Royal Society of Physicians that he just discovered a way for physicians to recognize children infected, but not yet sick, with TB. Pirquet was accompanied by a six-month-old baby whom the physician had diagnosed with tuberculosis through what he termed the “allergy test.” Two days before the meeting, and again that morning, the young physician had placed a drop of tuberculin on abraded areas of both of the infant’s forearms. Pirquet concluded that the resulting inflammation, which he demonstrated to...

  8. Chapter 4 The Preventorium Goes Nationwide
    (pp. 76-95)

    The new medium of film provided extensive national visibility for the preventorium, adding to the publicity generated by newspaper coverage. In 1910, the NTA convinced the Thomas Alva Edison Company to oversee the production of health motion pictures for the general public. Entranced by the new technology, people flocked to theaters. The fifth film produced by this joint venture, released in 1914, was titledTemple of Moloch. Named for a biblical god to whom children were sacrificed, the eleven-minute silent film focused on the travails of a needy immigrant factory worker, Eric Swanson, his wife, Cora, and their baby daughter....

  9. Chapter 5 Science and the Preventorium
    (pp. 96-111)

    By the 1920s, many clinicians had come to consider the preventorium the best treatment option for poor children infected with TB, because although they may have wished to prevent infection or cure it, they were unable to do either. Research suggested that TB infection was so ubiquitous in the United States, particularly in urban areas, that preventing transmission of the bacillus was not a feasible public health strategy. Nor had new curative modalities for tubercular children appeared on the horizon—the pioneering, but painful and expensive, regimen of surgery, immobilization, fresh air, and food, established at Sea Breeze for disease...

  10. Chapter 6 Tuberculosis in the “World of Tomorrow”
    (pp. 112-123)

    When the NTA’s exhibit opened at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the latest information about TB unfolded before hundreds of thousands of Americans. After marveling at the RCA exhibit featuring the new technology of television, visitors proceeded to the Hall of Medicine and Public Health, where a revolving miniature stage celebrated the nation’s progress against the disease. Although attendees learned about Christmas Seals and sanatoria, in keeping with the fair’s “World of Tomorrow” theme, the display emphasized X-ray machines and featured pictures of gleaming laboratories.

    Even though Percy Straus, Nathan’s nephew and current Macy’s president, served on the planning...

  11. Conclusion: Saving Children: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
    (pp. 124-132)

    How should the preventorium be remembered? Was it a “good” or a “bad” initiative? Viewing the institution dichotomously according to present-day standards misses the point. The child-savers who invented the preventorium in 1909 possessed a vision of family-centered care, albeit one that consciously included imposing their own standards on indigent families. Their desire to instill middle-class values in immigrants and the poor may sound judgmental according to contemporary norms and values, but they believed a heavy-handed approach necessary to address sweeping societal change and preserve their vision of American democracy.

    Pressured by society to address a disease infecting large numbers...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 133-168)
  13. Index
    (pp. 169-182)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-184)