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

Sea Air: Florida’s Coastal Tuberculosis Hospitals

Tuberculous children on the beach, Sea Breeze Hotel, Sea Gate, Coney Island, New York, c. 1910

Tuberculous children on the beach, Sea Breeze Hotel, Sea Gate, Coney Island, New York, c. 1910
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

 

Physician to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 174 C.E., Clarissimus Galen wrote of tuberculosis, recommending fresh air, milk, and sea voyages as a treatment. Galen’s ideas dominated western medicine for 1500 years, and his ideas about tuberculosis treatment were still echoed by many doctors in the early 1900s. This treatment paradigm remained prominent throughout the centuries, and early twentieth-century physicians continued to prescribe milk, fresh air, and seaside stays.

The A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, Florida

The A.G. Holley Tuberculosis Hospital, Lantana, Florida, 2007
Wikipedia Commons.

In Florida, four state tuberculosis hospitals were built between 1938 and 1952 as a response to a growing need for sanatoriums. These four state facilities were named W.T. Edwards Tuberculosis Hospitals in honor of their benefactor. To facilitate the therapeutic qualities of coastal air, large windows featured prominently in the architectural design of all four W.T. Edwards TB Hospitals.

The second W.T. Edwards TB Hospital, also called the Southeast Tuberculosis Hospital, was the last facility of the original American sanatoriums still in operation until recently. Located in Lantana, Florida and most lately called the A.G. Holley State Hospital, this institution opened in 1950 as a 500-bed hospital with living accommodations for the physicians, nurses, and administrative staff. As effective TB treatments and cures were developed, the capacity of A.G. Holley was reduced; in 2010 it had only 50 beds. Patients with the most difficult cases of TB were often sent here for treatment; these cases were frequently patients with multi–drug–resistant strains. A.G. Holley, Florida’s only TB hospital, was closed July 2, 2012.

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