Originally published January 2014
On May, 22, 1912, a caravan of horse-drawn carriages carried nearly 50 very sick Duluthians from downtown to a place called Nopeming, ten miles southwest of the Zenith City in the middle of the woods. No paved roads led to the facility, though a path had been recently cleared for construction crews. The carriage passengers were carriers of pulmonary tuberculosis, and the first patients of a new hospital—one at the end of a muddy path that they knew they might not travel on again.
County tuberculosis sanatoria—as well as state hospitals for the insane, city homes for elderly, etc.—became common after the turn of the twentieth century. A disease or class of disorders called for a building of a certain architectural style located in a setting usually far from the central population. These criteria were usually dictated by a certain influential personality or voted on at large medical conferences. The creation of Nopeming—the first county TB hospital in Minnesota—was a combination of both.
The idea for a Duluth tuberculosis (TB) hospital arrived in Duluth in 1908, carried by one prominent local doctor who attended the International Conference of Tuberculosis in Chicago, notably presided over by President Roosevelt. Sharing the spotlight with the president was Dr. Edward Trudeau, now considered the grandfather of the tuberculosis hospital movement.
The audience included Dr. Edward L. Tuohy of Duluth’s St. Mary’s hospital, who had in years prior established a major medical laboratory at his home institution and developed a reputation in the city as a major public health advocate. The conference convinced Tuohy that his city deserved a world-class sanatorium to treat its infected denizens, an idea he lobbied for when he returned to the Northland.
“SPOT LIGHT ON WHITE PLAGUE,” read the headline in August 1908 that detailed an upcoming exhibition. “The anti-tuberculosis movement is now world-wide,” wrote Tuohy and his colleagues in a statement, “and we in this city cannot afford to lose the advantage of it.” The exhibit would go on to Washington D.C. as Minnesota’s representative display.
Later that year, the Duluth Anti-Tuberculosis Committee was formed, inspired and led by Tuohy. The organization’s first mission was to convince the state legislature to authorize the construction of a hospital. In February 1909, Dr. Tuohy left St. Mary’s Hospital for the state capitol to deliver this argument on behalf of St. Louis County and the City of Duluth.
Convincing the State
Interestingly, it was originally thought that the county had the right to build such a structure out of its own volition. But when the town of Eveleth tried to build a TB hospital of its own, the effort was blocked. If Duluth wanted to accomplish its goal, it would need to get the go-ahead from the state body.
Dr. Tuohy worked with city attorney William Stevenson to author a bill. The document came in the wake of a city wide petition, inspired by an Anti-Tuberculosis Committee circular that read in part, “Last year there were 173 deaths from tuberculosis in the county…looking ahead a few years there will soon be 200 deaths,” and went on to make a case for a 100-bed hospital.
All of these efforts proved successful, and the state legislature agreed with Duluth about the need for a hospital. The state authorized $20,000 for the project—about enough to erect one small building, but not enough to break ground on a 100-bed hospital, the initial goal. Nonetheless, the legislative nod kicked off local fundraising. The city decided it would construct the first county sanatorium in the state, and with the state’s approval, it was simply a matter of funding.
While money was being collected, Dr. William Hart (a friend of Dr. Edward Tuohy and fellow TB activist) treated patients at the St. Louis County Courthouse and wrote pieces for the Duluth News-Tribune to energize the public to the cause. His article entitled “The Fight Against Tuberculosis” in particular detailed the ways the disease spreads between humans and animals, and offered modern tactics to limit transmission. Photographs ran with the article showing how other various institutions had been organized, educating a public that awaited its own sanatorium.