This week in history: Chicago’s tuberculosis sanitarium opens to public

Today, coronavirus may be making headlines, but 105 years ago, tuberculosis was killing thousands of Chicagoans every year. In 1915, the city opened its very own sanitarium to treat patients.

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Administration building at Chicago’s Municipal tuberculosis Sanitarium

Administration building at Chicago’s Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, as it looked just before it closed in 1974.

Sun-Times archives

As reported by the Chicago Daily News, sister paper of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Eight patients are receiving treatment at Chicago’s $2,400,000 municipal tuberculosis sanitarium at Bryn Mawr and Crawford avenues to-day,” a brief in the March 10, 1915 edition of the Chicago Daily News read.

“No formalities marked the beginning of actual work yesterday, when six women and two men were admitted as the first inmates of the institution.”

As Chicago grapples with coronavirus this week, it’s an apt time to look back at how the city sought to treat tuberculosis, a highly communicable disease.

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According to a 2018 landmark designation report recommending the sanitarium buildings be preserved, Chicago’s Department of Health reported 3,600 deaths from tuberculosis in 1905 and called for the city to provide free treatment. Ten years later, a sanitarium opened with 650 beds and 25 buildings.

The Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium treated tuberculosis patients with fresh air and a rich diet, according to the 1915 report. Windows stayed open, even in winter, and screened-in rooms were common. Patients were mostly isolated and sedentary, but some could participate in light activity.

The sanitarium closed in 1974, but some buildings still remain in North Park Village on the Far Northwest Side.

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