Amid growing alarm over the serious health threat tuberculosis posed in America’s most crowded urban environments, the National Tuberculosis Association sponsored a traveling educational exhibit seen by millions across the country. Hundreds of people visited the display when it arrived in Colorado Springs in the fall of 1909. The exhibit and related lectures, sermons and programs sparked increased interest in public health issues related to sanitation, urban planning, disease monitoring and the isolation of tuberculars.
The tuberculosis exhibit was part of a larger national “Crusade against Tuberculosis” that epitomized Progressive-Era reform movements. Using rhetorical language to frame the battle against the deadly disease in martial terms, local physicians and ministers encouraged citizens to, “…go to war against tuberculosis!” One prominent local speaker framed the challenge as “…the greatest humanitarian battle of the century, which we as soldiers must win!” Visitors to the exhibit examined diseased lungs, viewed graphic photographs, perused “ideal or model” homes with state-of-the-art sanitary amenities, and sat through numerous lantern slide presentations.
An unexpected outcome of the new public health campaign was pthisiophobia, or fear of tuberculosis. Residents keenly aware of Colorado Springs’ longstanding marketing campaign to lure “chasers” to the area grew alarmed by the ever increasing number of consumptives among them. Also worrisome was the growing number of tuberculosis cases contracted in the City of Sunshine. The percentage of tuberculosis related deaths among Colorado residents rose from 11.26% in 1893 to 19.77% in 1898. Responding to concerned citizens, Colorado Springs officials drafted a series of new laws in 1909.
As described in the Colorado Springs Gazette, changes in public health policy and practice included reorganization of the Colorado Springs Health Department, a ban on communal drinking cups, the prohibition of spitting in streets, parks, or other public places, a ban on teachers with tuberculosis, mandatory fumigation of boarding houses and residences where “lungers” died, free sputum cups furnished to those who could not afford them, an ordinance requiring all new sanatoriums be located outside city limits, and the creation of the non-profit Sunnyrest Sanatorium for indigent consumptives.
On a national level, Christmas Seals were introduced by Emily Bissell in 1907 to raise money for a small sanatorium in Delaware. Soon thereafter, the National Tuberculosis Association (later renamed the American Lung Association) adopted Christmas Seals as a powerful educational and fundraising tool. Interestingly, the organization designed its emblem, a modified Cross of Lorraine from the medieval Crusades to signify its own “Crusade against Tuberculosis!”