ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Tuberculosis (Consumption)


06 04

Common Council Proceedings, Watertown, Wis.


Report of the Commissioner of Public Health


To the Honorable, the Mayor and the Common Council of the City of Watertown




I have the honor to hereby submit my annual report as Commissioner of Public Health of this city for the year ending of the last day of March 1895.  My last report included the time from the 1st of March to the last day of February, 1894, and for the purpose of making a comparison between the year previous and the last year I shall refer to the corresponding periods of the year just past.  During this time there died, according to the death certificates in the city clerk's office, within the city limits 100 persons, of which 51 were males and 49 females, a decrease of 20 against the same period of the previous year.  22 of the deaths occurred in children under the age of three years.  32 persons died over the age of 65 years, out of this number 22 were more than 70 years old, 10 were over 80 and one reached the patriarchal age of 96 years.


The mortality in early childhood and in old age being everywhere and always great, and more than one half of our deaths falling within those periods we certainly have a most gratifying record.


The infectious diseases required by ordinance to be reported to the Commissioner of Public Health are small pox, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and typhoid fever.  We had not a single death from any of these, except small pox.  This small pox case occurred in the 5th ward and was traceable to direct infection from Chicago.  At the very beginning of the case the home of the patient was strictly quarantined; two guards watched the premises by day and night and no one was allowed to communicate with the inmates of the house, except the attending physicians and nurse.  After the death of the patient of the house the contents of the house were thoroughly disinfected, under personal supervision of the Health Commissioner.  The disease which gained more or less of a foothold in most cities where it appears did not spread in our midst, having been stamped out after a single case by the most thorough and radical methods for the prevention of contagion.  This was made possible by the generous support received by the Health department from the Common Council.


A fact worthy of consideration is that during the illness of said small pox patient her children, three or four in number, were all within the same house with her, but as they had all been successfully vaccinated during the preceding winder not one of them took the disease.  The husband of the patient was vaccinated in childhood and re-vaccinated after his wife was taken sick, and he also escaped contagion.  In the town of Clyman where this case originated all inmates of the same house with the patient who were not vaccinated were taken sick with small pox, and several died.  Vaccination is the only safeguard against this pest lential (sic) disease which, in the days before vaccination, decimated the population of all countries.  The vaccination orders of the State Board of Health were generally obeyed here during the past two years.


We had 5 deaths from pneumonia and 3 from bronchitis.


In 17 cases of death the reports of the attending physicians give tuberculosis (consumption) as the cause.  Nearly one sixth of all our deaths are due to consumption; and consumption is a contagious and in certain degree, a preventable disease.   This is a sad state of affairs.  If small pox had caused one half as many deaths in our midst every one would be bent upon stamping out the dread disease, the public would be thoroughly alarmed and the Health Department be sought for aid.  The many deaths from consumption are looked upon with indifference and accepted with a spirit of resignation, and yet, consumption is a contagious disease and may to a great extent be prevented.  Relatives and friends who see their dear ones one after another succumb to this terrible malady say, "Well they must die of it."  Consumption runs in the family, but they don't know that "consumption runs in houses" more than in families.  A person with a predisposition for consumption living and sleeping in a house, perhaps in the very bed, in which a consumptive has lived and died will, in all probability, take the disease, unless the previous occupant, the tuberculosis patient, has been properly managed and the house and its contents have been thoroughly disinfected.


The danger of infection from consumption consists principally in the inhalation of dried particles of sputum from patients containing the germ of the disease.


Consumptives should never spit upon the floor or into handkerchiefs, but if possible, the sputum should be disinfected with a 5 percent solution of carbolic acid or with some other equally effective germicide.  Another good method is to have the patient spit into rags and burn them immediately.  As long as the sputum remains moist it does not convey the contagion.  Well people should not sleep with consumptives in the same bed.  With these single precautions the danger of direct infection become very slight.  In all places where the people were taught the importance of caring for the sputa of patients suffering from consumption and live up to the instructions of medical authorities a gradual and steady decrease of the disease was noticed.  Though I earnestly called attention to this two years ago and again last year, no one appears to have given this matter any serious consideration.  In the year 1892 to 1893 we had out of a total of 128 deaths 10 from consumption, in the year 1893 to 1894 17 out of 120 deaths were from consumption, and in the year 1894 to 1895 we reach the number of 17 deaths out of a total of 100 from consumption, 1/6 of all our deaths.


After a death of consumption has occurred in a house, though it may have been several years ago, the whole interior of the dwelling should be properly disinfected and renovated.  In a future communication I shall explain how this may be effectively done, and anyone desiring information on this subject may receive the same by calling at the Health Department.


In my former reports I called attention to the necessity of having a public hospital.  This need not be large, nor cost much to keep up.  A small house in a suitable location with a few acres of land surrounding it might be bought or erected by the city, so that patients might be received and cared for therein.  At present we have no place for the proper care of the ill and wounded.  As far as cleanliness is concerned our city may be compared favorably with other cities of its size.  The orders of the Health Commissioners to clean up when complaint has been made are generally cheerfully complied with by those who have offended.  All in all there are not many conditions in our midst endangering the public health, though some private places and alleys should be kept cleaner and neater.  It is well to bear in mind, however, that not everything that is annoying or unpleasant in a neighborhood much also be detrimental to the public health, and that it is often times, therefore, difficult for the Commissioner of Health to interfere.


We are at present, with our very low death rate of only one percent, without doubt, one of the most healthful if the THE most beautiful city in the United States.  Let everyone take pride in keeping his place neat, clean and free from smell, and we will soon add to our reputation of the most healthful city that of the most attractive.  In conclusion I desire to express to his Honor, the Mayor, the members of the Board of Health and the Common Council my thanks for their faithful support and for many courtesies shown me during the past year.


Respectfully submitted,



Commissioner of Public Health



03 12       Tuberculosis Exhibit – week-long, in Watertown    WG


Tuberculosis Sanitarium




Suggestion That Dodge and Jefferson Counties Unite in Fight Against White Plague Meets With Favor




Watertown Daily Times, 12 17 1915


Madison, Dec. 6


To the Editor of the Times: 


In your issue of December 4, I was much gratified to notice a clipping from the Waterloo Democrat containing the suggestion that Jefferson and Dodge counties join hands and erect a tuberculosis sanitarium.  Watertown would be the natural location for such an institution, and ideal sites could be found in the fifth and sixth wards.  There is pressing need for a tuberculosis hospital in every populous county in the state, and there is no good reason why two such thickly settled, and wealthy counties, could not combine and build one.  There is no great burden to the taxpayers after the first cost of erection.  Trempeleau County I think reported a surplus of income above expenses this year.


Our state institutions at Wales is in trouble, or reported to be, and the Board of Control is wrestling with questions of a change in the management.  It is impossible for it to shelter the thousands of unfortunates who can only take a comparatively small number of incipient cases, and those far advanced must be taken care of in their homes, where their presence is a menace to their families and the neighborhood.


The public does not realize the great danger of an advanced consumptive to the community.  Walking about, as many of them do, coughing and expectorating millions of tuberculosis germs, “the evil they do lives after them” and unless these conditions can be changed, the fight against “the white plague” can never be won.


Many years ago, before it was known that consumption was contagious, it was found that the death rate from that disease in London was only one-half that Berlin and Paris.  The reason was that the “Brompton Hospitals for Consumption” segregated hundreds of unfortunates every year who otherwise would have walked the streets of the world’s metropolis scattering the seeds of disease in their path.


A Watertown doctor was asked by a patient a short time ago, when told that his lungs were diseased, if he could not go to some place where he would not infect his children.  The doctor shook his head.  The state sanatorium was full, and the patient’s means would not allow him to go to a private institutions.


The decline in the death rate from tuberculosis in the United States is principally in the larger cities, where systematic efforts are being made to limit the ravages of the disease.  In the country little progress has been made, notwithstanding the noble efforts of the anti-tuberculosis societies.  The county sanitarium is the most potent weapon in fighting the disease.  A consumptive who goes there and dies does not jeopardize the health of the community, and if he leaves it with his disease arrested, he is a graduate of a school for tuberculosis, and can by his experience teach his neighbors the gospel of right living.


Now why should not the good, progressive people of Dodge and Jefferson counties get together on this proposition?  I feel certain that it will appeal to many of the supervisors in Jefferson County whom I personally know are in favor of building a sanitarium, and only fear the expense.  If the cost of erection could be shared by the two counties, it would be very small for each, and put into the hands of those who are unselfishly fighting the disease, the most effective weapon known to medical science.


W. F. Whyte, M.D.