University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

Desperate Search for a Cure for Tuberculosis: Fresh Air

Prevent Disease: Careless Spitting, Coughing, Sneezing, Spread Influenza and Tuberculois, 1921

Prevent Disease: Careless Spitting, Coughing, Sneezing, Spread Influenza and Tuberculois, 1921
Rensselaer County Tuberculosis Association (Troy, N.Y.), c.1925, National Library of Medicine.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, physicians searched for effective treatments and for a cure. The majority of treatments focused on “fresh air” as cure and preventative for tuberculosis.

Fresh-air treatments. Early fresh-air treatments were in cool, mountainous areas, but other types of fresh air were also prescribed: dry, desert air; invigorating salt sea air; even cool, cave air. Tuberculosis sanatoria began to spring up all over the country as physicians and their patients sought “climatic cure.” From large specialty hospitals to small boarding houses, tuberculosis facilities served patients from all regions and backgrounds.

Little Adrienne Mayer pins the health ribbon on General John J. Pershing and sells him his Tuberculosis Christmas Seals, 1921

Little Adrienne Mayer pins the health ribbon on General John J. Pershing and sells him his Tuberculosis Christmas Seals, 1921
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Raising money. The search for effective treatments and cures required substantial funding. Although wealthy families and charitable organizations supported the search, the demands of research and care outstripped these resources. Also, every community, no matter how small, needed treatment clinics for patients, and the small facilities struggled continuously to remain open. In 1907, a new type of campaign to raise money for TB research and treatment began in Delaware. The Christmas Seals campaign brought tuberculosis into a new socially acceptable setting as charitable groups across the country began to raise money each year in the search for a cure.

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