Houston and the Fight Against Tuberculosis

Sandra Yates
Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

I spent the last couple of weeks processing the records of the San Jacinto Lung Association. It’s a small collection, only 12 boxes, that includes correspondence, tuberculosis statistics, scrapbooks, Christmas seals, and photographs of the organization’s history, community services, staff, and administration from 1911 and into the 1980s. Most notably, the collection highlights the organization’s public health programs to prevent and control tuberculosis, the major health crisis of the early 20th Century. The finding aid for the San Jacinto Lung Association is available on our website.

This little bungalow at 806 Bagby St first opened in 1913 as the Free Clinic for the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League. The organization had a clinic or offices there until 1957 when they moved to a new building on Dallas Avenue. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-921, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

This little bungalow at 806 Bagby St first opened in 1913 as the Free Clinic for the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League. The organization had a clinic or offices there until 1957 when they moved to a new building on Dallas Avenue. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-921, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Led by Dr. Elva A. Wright, the San Jacinto Lung Association was first established on November 11, 1911 as the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League. At the time Houston had a higher death rate of tuberculosis than the national average with two in 1000 persons dying from the disease in 1910. The Association was a non-profit, community-driven organization dedicated to engage the people of Houston to control, prevent, and educate the community about tuberculosis. Its primary focus and goals were to:

  • Educate public of cause and symptoms.
  • Promote healthy living.
  • Establish free clinic.
  • Employ visiting public health nurses.
  • Develop sanitariums and hospitals.
  • Advocate for laws to control tuberculosis.
  • Encourage city and county health departments to lead fight.
Children and Nurse outside Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League and Free Clinic, c. 1920. [San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-920, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Children and Nurse outside Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League and Free Clinic, c. 1920. [San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-920, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Dr. Elva A. Wright, founder of the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League, examining children, c. 1930s. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-736, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Dr. Elva A. Wright examining children, c. 1930s. She led the effort to establish an anti-tuberculosis association to prevent and treat tuberculosis in Houston. She said, “I’d rather be remembered for the disease I prevented than for the disease I cured.” Dr. Wright was born in Pennsylvania in 1868 and received her medical degree from Northwestern University in 1900. She practiced obstetrics, but her interest turned to tuberculosis and its effect on children during her post-graduate work in Europe and Chicago. She opened her office in Houston within the Temple Building on Main St., and through her practice, she saw how tuberculosis affected children and families throughout the city. She served as president of the Association until her death on July 18 , 1950. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-736, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League nurse visiting patient, c. 1940. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-791, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League nurse visiting patient, c. 1940. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-791, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Expanded Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League and Clinic on Bagby St., c. 1930s. Description reads, "The clinic was hedged in by heavy traffic of the adjoining courthouse, hence the signs 'No Parking - Clinic Zone.' The 6-foot high board fence the Sheriff built alongside the clinic to keep the TB germs from hopping into the Courthouse Square unfortunately does not show in this picture." [San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-775, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Expanded Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League and Clinic on Bagby St., c. 1930s. Description reads, “The clinic was hedged in by heavy traffic of the adjoining courthouse, hence the signs ‘No Parking – Clinic Zone.’ The 6-foot high board fence the Sheriff built alongside the clinic to keep the TB germs from hopping into the Courthouse Square unfortunately does not show in this picture.” [San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-775, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

The clinic and offices of the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League on Bagby St., c. 1936. Description reads, "In the rear of the clinic was plagued by Old Man Bayou which relentlessly year after year eroded its bank to beneath the building, requiring all kinds of props like those seen here to keep the structure from toppling into the bayou." [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-775, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

The clinic and offices of the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League on Bagby St., c. 1936. Description reads, “In the rear of the clinic was plagued by Old Man Bayou which relentlessly year after year eroded its bank to beneath the building, requiring all kinds of props like those seen here to keep the structure from toppling into the bayou.” [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-775, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

The clinic and offices of the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League on Bagby St. were moved and reinforced away from the eroding banks of the bayou, 1936. Sure, the children can stay inside! [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-727, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

The clinic and offices of the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League on Bagby St. were moved and reinforced away from the eroding banks of the bayou, 1936. Sure, the children can stay inside! [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-727, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Christmas Seal campaign of 1940. Description reads, "Little Miss Christmas Seal presents seals for 1940 to Santa Clause." [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-821, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Christmas Seal campaign of 1940. Description reads, “Little Miss Christmas Seal presents seals for 1940 to Santa Clause.” From the beginning, the Association utilized Christmas Seal sales as its primary source of funding. First used in Denmark in 1904, Christmas Seals were purchased as extra postage for holiday packages, and the proceeds went to hospitals for children. In 1907 the National Anti-Tuberculosis Association began selling Christmas Seals in America as a fundraising campaign to fight tuberculosis. From $263.82 in 1911 to over $150,000 in 1956, the San Jacinto Lung Association funded all of its programs through the annual Christmas Seals campaign. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-821, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Through the years the San Jacinto Lung Association operated daily clinics for treatment and diagnosis of tuberculosis as well as conducted mass-screenings using chest X-rays and skin tests. In 1945 the Association started its mobile unit service, which brought screening and X-ray services into neighborhoods around Houston and Harris County. As the the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis became more effective, the Association started to address other respiratory diseases, providing lung performance tests to screen for emphysema and asthma.

The community lined up into the evening to visit the first Mobile Unit (far left of image) of the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League, 1945. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-811, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

The community lined up into the evening to visit the first Mobile Unit (far left of image) of the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League, 1945. [IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-811, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Mobile Unit and crew for the San Jacinto Lung Association, c. 1960s. It's parked in downtown Houston, possibly in front of Foley's Department Store. [San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-813, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

Mobile Unit and crew for the San Jacinto Lung Association, c. 1960s. It’s parked in downtown Houston, possibly in front of Foley’s Department Store. [San Jacinto Lung Association records, Box 5, P-813, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library.]

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Posted in Institutional Collection, Medical Archives

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