Housing the Victims of the Great White Plague The Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital

Oregon led the Northwest in the fight against tuberculosis, what was then one of the ten major causes of death in the United States. There was evidence of tuberculosis in the Northwest Indians but the first reported case among the whites was Meredith Gairdner who came to Fort Vancouver in 1833 as a resident physician. The census of Oregon in 1860 reports a population of 52,465 with 300 deaths. TB or consumption, as it was known, was the cause of eleven percent of these. At this time, health care for the tubercular patient was home care. Patients who had the economic wherewithal were advised to seek drier climates. From 1904-1906, 774 deaths in Oregon were reported from tuberculosis. When the State Board of Health was formed in 1903, one of the first problems addressed was an open-air sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis.

Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital, 1st State-owned TB Sanatorium in the West.

The first sanatorium in the Pacific Northwest was opened on Milwaukie Heights in 1905. However, those who were not financially able remained neglected. A state facility was needed, and finally the abandoned Deaf-Mute School in Salem was purchased to accommodate the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital, the first state owned and operated tuberculosis sanatorium in the West.

In 1909 the Oregon State Legislature enacted laws designating that a tuberculosis sanatorium was to be operated to provide treatment for tuberculosis patients who were unable to secure proper care elsewhere, where patients were to be educated in the proper techniques of healthful living and how to avoid spreading the disease and also to segregate those in the advanced state of the disease to eliminate the danger of infection. This was the first such action taken by any of the Western states.

Prior to this, in 1894, construction was started on a building designated to be the Oregon State Deaf-Mute School, and was so occupied during the years of 1896 and 1897, but because of the inability to transport supplies over the nearly non-existent roads this building southeast of Salem was abandoned. After the Legislature enacted the laws for a sanatorium for treatment of the tubercular, one of the senators of that time saw this site, nestled in the foothills with available buildings, and action was taken to utilize this for the proposed Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital.

On November 21, 1910 the first five patients were admitted to the fifty-bed Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital. H. J. Clement, M.D., who was superintendent in 1910 and 1911, then administered hospital business and the medical program. During that time additional open-air facilities, Pavilion Pierce and an open air Summer House were completed. P. H. Fitzgerald, M.D., served as superintendent in 1912, and Grover C. Bellinger, M.D. became superintendent in 1913. He remained the only physician on the staff until the end of World War I, when Dr. P. L. Newmyer joined him.

Also in 1913, the Board of Control was created and became director of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital. 

Treatment in open-air pavilions

Early construction was centered mostly on the pavilion type of treatment facility, with Pavilion Butler constructed in 1919, Pavilion C erected in 1923 and Pavilion D constructed in 1925. Physicians Cottage I was constructed in 1919 and before this, the engine room and dairy barn were built in 1912. For many years the hospital maintained a large herd of cows to supply the needs of both patients and employees living there. At this time, and for many years following, they also maintained a farming project which included raising of all garden supplies and feed for the dairy animals. The greenhouse was constructed in 1922. Physicians Cottage II was built in 1932.

Pavilion C was made into a children's' preventorium and treatment center, with schooling offered to both bed patients and patients with exercise. In 1941 this program was taken over by the State Program for Education of the Handicapped Children, and the department furnished teachers and school programs for all school age pupils so that they could maintain their study program while hospitalized.

A professional rehabilitation program was initiated with the assistance of the Oregon State Tuberculosis and Health Association; this was eventually taken over by the Oregon State Vocational Rehabilitation Department.

In 1910 the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital had only 50 beds available; in 1917 there were 75 beds in operation. In 1919 construction of Pavilion Butler brought the bed count up to 105, and construction of Pavilion C in 1923 made 150 beds available. In 1923 a modern paved highway extended from Salem to the hospital, and additional facilities in Pavilion D made 195 available beds for the treatment and care of the tubercular.

As the need for beds was so much greater than the facilities available a modern two-story hospital was completed in 1932; in 1933, 15 extra beds were placed in the Administration Building for a colony of patients who had reached a satisfactory stage of convalescence. Also, at that time a 270 bed hospital was constructed in Eastern Oregon at The Dalles, known as the Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital, to better care for more of the State of Oregon who were afflicted with this dreaded, contagious disease, to make facilities for the long "waiting list" of persons who needed treatment. These two hospitals were run in conjunction until 1934, when J. M. O'Dell became Superintendent at Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital.

In 1934 a third floor was added to the hospital in Salem, and a Nurses Home was constructed that housed 40 of the nursing personnel. Good use was made of WPA labor and brick reclaimed after the fire of the Oregon State Capitol in this construction. Physicians Cottage III was made in 1938 and Physicians Cottage IV was built in 1949. In 1955 Physicians Cottage V was completed. 

x-ray laboratory

Due to deterioration and fire hazard, Pavilion Pierce was razed in 1947; the Summer House was closed in 1948 and razed in 1956. However, a great need for beds still remained, with a long list of patients waiting for beds and in 1954 and 1955 two new floors were added to the hospital, with the first admission there on May 31, 1955. This construction also included the new, completely up to date surgery, pharmacy and laboratory. After that date it was not necessary for residents of Oregon with tuberculosis to wait for an admission to a tuberculosis hospital. During this period new construction included a paint shop, machinists shop and truck storage, and a new dormitory to house men and women employees, constructed in 1953.

In June 1954, Dr. G. C. Bellinger retired as Superintendent of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital, and Dr. Robert E. Joseph received appointment by the Board of Control to step up from Assistant Superintendent to Superintendent.

Prior to this date, the Oregon State Legislature adopted a measure to provide protection for the citizenry of the state by placing those recalcitrant who would not accept hospitalization and treatment under isolation and quarantine. Quarters were specifically prepared for the isolation and treatment of these patients.

With the advent of new drugs over the last few years, and surgical treatment, the need for hospital beds had lessened somewhat, as the period of treatment was shortened; subsequently the three remaining pavilions were closed but maintained in readiness. In 1957 Pavilion D was razed, leaving only two pavilions standing. Those 71 beds however, could be opened at any time to care for an influx of patients, or to care for patients in a time of national emergency.

In May 1959, because of the reduced population at both the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital and the Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital, the remaining 19 patients at the latter were moved to the hospital in Salem and the Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital was converted to a geriatric service with the title of Oregon State Mid-Columbia Home.

It was necessary to replace the reservoir constructed in 1894 by a new one-half million-gallon tank to store water for the institution, and for two neighboring state institutions.

The methods of treating tuberculosis years ago had long been replaced by new methods. The only available treatment in early years was that of complete rest and adequate diet. After that the patients were treated with pneumothorax and pneumoperitoneum, phrenic surgery, thoracoplasty, with very little medication to help the patient. Gold was first administered in the mid 1930's as a treatment for tuberculosis. Later streptomycin, then Isoniazid and Para-aminosalicylate acid were added to the list of anti-tuberculosis chemotherapy and gold was no longer used.

The patients with anti-tuberculosis medications and surgery available could anticipate an average stay of just over six months, instead of the hospitalization period of several years. Although the period of hospitalization was much shorter, many more patients were admitted yearly; for example during 1959, 324 patients were admitted to the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital.

Landscaped grounds surrounded the hospital, located on a hillside overlooking a wide expanse of the Willamette Valley. The original beauty of natural shrubbery was enhanced with rock walls, terraces, trees, shrubs, flowers, and winding paths. Inside the buildings you could find modern equipment for the use of the doctors and nurses in the care of the patients: x-ray, lamp therapy, a laboratory, surgery facilities and other departments. The dietary department maintained a high caliber of service with excellent food to help the patients to regain their health. 

Patient ward, University Tuberculosis Hospital

Film interpretation service was provided by the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital and was available without cost to all doctors and health departments in the state. During the year of 1959 the staff studied and reported on 12,126 x-rays, representing 6,714 different patients. Through this service 83 patients were admitted to the hospital for treatment. Also, through this service other patients were led to accept hospitalization and treatment either through their private physicians or through treatment centers such as the Veterans Administration Hospital.

During the year of 1959 the staff performed 1,399 examinations on outpatients - those patients who had been discharged from the hospital and those who had been referred by their physician or health department. The Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital received a full accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals of America and Canada on October 27, 1955, and was able to maintain this accreditation through tri-yearly inspections; they maintained membership in the Association of Western Hospitals.

Through the social service department the patients maintained contact with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department of Public Welfare, the Veterans Administration and the State Department of Service for the Blind. The Occupational Therapy Department was fully equipped with wood working machinery, ceramic supplies and kiln, and supplies for leather tooling, knitting and other handicrafts, to help the patient keep busy during his period of treatment.

During this fifty-year period 8,050 new patients were admitted to the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital; also 25%, or at least 2,000 of these persons, were re-admitted for further hospitalization and treatment. Through the hospitalization of these many persons, the hospital had an active part in assisting over 8,000 residents of the State of Oregon regain their health, and helped them return to their homes and communities as active citizens. There were an estimated 3,600 employees of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital to serve 8,050 patients.

An ex-patient, twenty-four years after his discharge, returned to tour the hospital, to view the place where he spent eight years of his life. On admission, at age 18, he was expected to live only one or two months. On discharge, at age 26, he had to borrow money to leave the hospital. He developed a business that grossed a million dollars yearly. Not all of the patients were this successful, but a great majority of the people returned to a useful, satisfying life.

The Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital maintained an affiliation with the Practical Nurse Training Program of the Salem Adult Education Program. Through this, trainees were taught the specialties of tuberculosis care. They were justly proud of their association with the health departments of Oregon. To further this understanding between the hospital and health departments they held a Public Health Nurse orientation meeting of two days, where nurses from all over the state became acquainted with patient treatment and the recommended requirements of the patients at the time of their discharge.

Special recognition should be given to those doctors whose deeds and services led to the maintenance of the excellent record of the hospital. These persons gave the patients renewed hope and life expectancy. Among those who were active, the following persons were recognized mainly by the reports and correspondence recorded in their patients' folders. 

University Tuberculosis Hospital, Portland, Oregon "under construction"

H. J. Clement, M.D., was the first Superintendent and was in charge of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in 1910 and 1911, when the institution had to be transformed from a discarded Deaf-Mute School to the facilities needed for the care of the tuberculous. He was succeeded by P.H. Fitzgerald, M.D., who was Superintendent the remaining portion of 1911 until Grover C. Bellinger, M.D., took over as Superintendent in 1913.

Grover C. Bellinger, M.D., remained the only member of the medical staff until the end of World War I, when Dr. P. L. Newmyer joined the staff. During the early part of this period Dr. and Mrs. (Hattie) Bellinger had their living quarters in the Administration Building, where they and their children resided until the first home was built for a physician, in 1919. Dr. Bellinger remained as Superintendent of the Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital until his retirement in June 1954.

B. Isabel Shannon, M.D., was a member of the medical staff during the period of 1930 to 1934.

James O'Dell became a member of the medical staff in 1933, moved to the new Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital in 1934 and eventually became Superintendent of that hospital. He remained so until the Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital was closed in May 1959.

Robert E. Joseph, M.D., joined the staff of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in April 1936, as surgeon. He took a leave of absence during World War II to serve in the U. S. Navy. After his return he was first appointed Assistant Superintendent, then became Superintendent of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in June 1954.

A. Terrence King, M.D., joined the staff of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital on July 10, 1934, and remained until May 16, 1941, when he went into private practice in Salem, Oregon.

George A. Williams, M.D., was remembered by the many patients he treated from June 7, 1939 to August 1, 1946.

Edwin Ruel Wheeler, M.D., served on the staff of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital from June 12, 1944 to April 10, 1953.

James M. Pomeroy, M.D., joined the staff of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital as surgeon March 1, 1947, and was a member of the staff until August 16, 1951, when he left to do missionary work in India. He returned to state service, at Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital, and then came back to the staff at the Salem hospital on July 15, 1957. He last terminated on December 29, 1959, to become Superintendent of the Oregon State Fairview Home.

P. L. Newmyer transferred to the Eastern Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital in April 1936, at the time R. E. Joseph transferred from that institution to the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital.

Gerhard Boost, M.D., joined the staff of the hospital on April 5, 1950, and left the staff on January 31, 1958 to become a member of the Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Company.

John G. Chu, M.D., became a member of the staff of the hospital on October 16, 1953. He took a leave of absence from September 1960 to June 1961, to take post-graduate work at Pennsylvania University.

James McAllister, M.D., came to the staff as an internist on January 16, 1945. He retired on August 31, 1959, but returned several times after that date to assist when members of the medical staff were ill or on extended leave.

James H. Cooper, M.D., joined the staff of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital on July 14, 1954 as a surgeon. On July 31, 1957 he left the staff to set up private practice in Riverside, California.

William H. Cloyd, M. D., joined the staff as Assistant Superintendent on October 19, 1955 and remained until May 28, 1958, when he transferred to the Oregon State Hospital to take a residency in Psychiatry.

Glenroy N. Pierce, M.D., was a very active member of the medical staff from July 7, 1958 to July 16, 1960, when he left to become Medical Director of the Arkansas State Sanatorium.

Winston C. Dudley, M.D., a board certified internist, joined the staff on August 10, 1959, coming from a Veterans Administration Service.

Don F. Kimmerling, M.D., transferred to the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital on August 13, 1960.

The first pulmonary surgery on patients of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital was performed at Matson's, on a referral basis, afterwards these patients were transferred to the University Tuberculosis Hospital for surgery, until facilities were available at the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital. Fred H. Thompson, M.D. of Salem, was the first consulting surgeon. Marvin M. Lacy, M.D. of Portland, was consulting surgeon from April 1, 1952 to October 31, 1953. Alan L. Ferrin, M.D. of Salem, acted as consulting surgeon from November 1, 1953 to July 14, 1954. During this period he performed the first surgery in the new, modern surgery facility.

Dr. Ferrin again took over as consulting surgeon on January 15, 1960. On February 20, 1961, he performed the last surgery in the beautiful, modern surgery, as the Legislature decreed that hereafter all surgery cases would be transferred to University Tuberculosis Hospital in Portland.

Recognition must be given to the assistance the Oregon State Tuberculosis and Health Association gave in initiating the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, and then in the Occupational Therapy program, in addition to the many other duties this organization had to perform; also they received excellent co-operation from the County Tuberculosis and Health Associations. Recognition should be given to the Salem Ministerial Society, which furnished religious leaders of different faiths for the patients, to the State and County's forty eight organizations, who contributed so whole-heartedly to the welfare of the young patients, to the American Red Cross, and to the many other local and state-wide organizations and individuals who were so generous in assisting in meeting the personal needs of the patients.

Special recognition was given to the Oregon State Board of Control, whose members through the years so ably directed the institutions of Oregon so that they numbered high among those of the nation.

Miss L. Grace Holmes was director of Surveys and Clinics for the Oregon Tuberculosis Association (formed in 1915) and spent over 40 years in tuberculosis control work. In April of 1933, she wrote in the Commonwealth Review that the first need for TB patients was more beds. The second was to keep Portland cases within the city. The third was to provide adequate teaching facilities for the University of Oregon Medical School. This she said, "in spite of some valiant work on the part of the professors who are teaching diseases of the chest, the University is still sending out men from this, the only medical school in the northwest, with very inadequate preparation for recognizing and treating tuberculosis, a disease which still causes more than six percent of all deaths in the country and almost twenty per cent of all those that over in the important age groups from fifteen to forty-five."

With the opening of the University Tuberculosis Hospital, the waiting list of patients at the Salem facility became nearly non-existent. The University Tuberculosis Hospital was dedicated in 1939 on the University of Oregon Medical School Campus in Portland. Operation of the hospital was in the competent hands of Dean Richard B. Dillehunt, M.D. David W. Baird was appointed medical director and Ralf Couch, administrator with Ralph C. Matson as chief surgeon. In 1963, the State Legislature combined the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem with the University of Oregon Medical School State Tuberculosis Hospital. As a result, patients located in the University State Tuberculosis Hospital on the Portland campus were transferred to the State Hospital in Salem.

Other resources in the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives

PNW Archives

  • Holsinger, Harold. A History of the Care of the Tuberculosis Patient in Oregon. Portland, Oregon: The University of Oregon Medical School, 1940. PNW Archives: R131.8 H76 1940
  • Larsell, Olaf. The Doctor in Oregon: A Medical History. Portland, Oregon: Binsford & Mort, 1947. PNW Archives: WZ70.A07 L33d 1947
  • Mack, Mary Graham, [compiler]. Laws, Rules, Regulations Relating to Tuberculosis: Oregon. New York: National Tuberculosis Association, 1947-1948. PNW Archives: RC313 066 1947-1948
  • National Tuberculosis Association. Jessamine S. Whitney. A Study of the Health of Indians on the Klamath Reservation in Oregon. New York: National Tuberculosis Association, 1929. PNW Archives: RA137 N27 1929
  • Oregon Tuberculosis Association. Twenty Five Years: 1940 Annual Report. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Tuberculosis Association, 1940. PNW Archives
  • Oregon Tuberculosis and Health Association. Hospitalization of Tuberculosis Patients, Oregon, 1949-1951: Preliminary Report. Oregon Tuberculosis and Health Association. Portland, Oregon: The Association, 1953. PNW Archives: RC313 O68 1953
  • Oregon. State Board of Health. Oregon Tuberculosis Morbidity and Mortality. Portland: Oregon State Board of Health, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956. PNW Archives: RC313 066o 1953; RC313 066o 1958
  • University of Oregon Medical School Hospital. Manual of Organization and Administrative Policies and Procedures for the Tuberculosis Unit: University of Oregon Medical School Hospital and Clinics. Portland: The University of Oregon medical School, 1939. PNW Archives: RA973 066t 1939
  • University of Oregon. Medical School Hospital. Tuberculosis Hospital. University State Tuberculosis Hospital Dedication: Miscellaneous materials. 1939. PNW Archives: RC309 066d 1939
  • University of Oregon. Medical School. Hospital. Information for Patients: Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital/University of Oregon Medical School Hospitals and Clinics. Portland, Oregon: The University of Oregon Medical School, 1958. PNW Archives: RC309 066 1958

Historical Image Collection

  • Archives: Accession # 2000-001 The Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital Collection
  • Oral History Interview with Barbara Hiatt Jacob, August 31, 1998. Oregon Health & Science University Library: W19.038 no.46 1998