Rusnock, Andrea

Advisor Department





Tuberculosis, patient perspectives, Wallum Lake Sanitorium, forcible detainment


The World Health Organization estimates that approximately one third of the word's current population had been infected with tuberculosis. Prior to the 1940's TB was considered an incurable, chronic affliction. Historically, many people were forcibly detained in tuberculosis sanatoria to lessen the spread of the disease; my great granfather being one of them. In 1939, without warning, he was taken from his pregnant, jobless wife and one-year-old daughter, who were left to fend for themselves for two years without government planning or assistance. He spent those two years at Wallum Lake Sanitorium in northern Rhode Island, a place my great-grandmother's sister would refer to as "the end of nowhere."

Using annual reports from the Wallum Lake Sanitorium, annual reports from the Newport Board of Health, personal interviews and other period documents, I've assembled a collage of stories that show us what it was to be a patient at this time--to be labeled a "danger" to society, a senseless, "vicious consumptive." These people were cut out of society like a bit of bruised apple.

This February (2012) twelve cases of total drug resistant tuberculosis were documented in India. Although India is half a world away; it would only take a plane ride to spread the total drug resistant strain across the globe. Without even the most extreme treatment options to combat the cleverly adapted bacteria, is it possible we could return to detainment in sanitoria? Helpless patients may once again be forced to return to nowhere.