The “White Plague”


February 10, 1907 

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 118-164.6 Patients Outdoors

On this day February 10, 1907 parents and guardians of children, and especially school teachers throughout Newfoundland and Labrador  were urged by local media to ensure that children “do not spit on the floors of houses, as it spreads the “White Plague“.

The “white plague” was the term used to refer to tuberculosis. It was also called “consumption” and later “TB”.

In 1899 the population of Newfoundland was 212,000. In that year 655 people died of tuberculosis. This was the highest death rate in North America. It caused considerable public concern but it would still be years before the fight against TB finally began.

In 1907, the first steps to form an association to fight tuberculosis were taken. In February, 1908, the Newfoundland Association for the Prevention of Consumption was formed.  Church and health officials began encouraging Government to provide funding for a sanatorium to treat tuberculosis.  One of the treatments of the day was that patients be moved outdoors to “enjoy” the benefits of the fresh air.

From 1901-1975, just under 32,000 people died of TB in Newfoundland. Often the victims were males aged 15 to 45. These men were the breadwinners of their families, the social and economic costs of TB were great.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives ask reference staff about the many collections that make reference to tuberculosis including information about the Tuberculosis Sanitarium and the Convalescent Hospital.

Recommended Reading: Cuff, Harry. Take a deep breath: reflections; lives touched by tuberculosis; creative works by ex-tubercular patients: battles in the war against tuberculosis.St. John’s: Harry Cuff Publications, 2002.