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Saving Sickly Children

The Tuberculosis Preventorium in American Life, 1909-1970

Cynthia A. Connolly

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book began with research done at the University of Pennsylvania under the guidance of Joan Lynaugh, Karen Buhler-Wilkerson, and Charles Rosenberg. Their insightful critiques of my work were always given in a way that made me to believe that I could, indeed, plumb my data more deeply and express my thoughts more clearly. ...

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Chapter 1: Child-saving in the United States

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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. ...

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Chapter 2: Tuberculosis: A Children’s Disease

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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 ...

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Chapter 3: Founding the Preventorium

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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.” ...

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Chapter 4: The Preventorium Goes Nationwide

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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 fl ocked to theaters. The fifth film produced by this joint venture, released in 1914, was titled ...

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Chapter 5: Science and the Preventorium

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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 ...

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Chapter 6: Tuberculosis in the “World of Tomorrow”

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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. ...

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Conclusion: Saving Children: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

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pp. 124-131

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 ...


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pp. 133-167


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pp. 169-182

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About the Author

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Cynthia A. Connolly is an assistant professor at Yale University School of Nursing, and at the Section of the History of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine. She has more than twenty-five years of clinical experience ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813545943
E-ISBN-10: 0813545943
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813542676

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 10
Publication Year: 2008