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Society physician led the charge against TB; anti-tuberculosis association formed

One of the greatest public health threats in the early 1900s was tuberculosis (TB). In fact, according to an article in the October 1939 CHEST Journal, the TB death rate in 1908 was 109 per 100,000 in Wisconsin. But between 1908 and 1913, the number of deaths decreased from 2,500 to 2,329—a decline a June 1916 WMJ editorial said was “directly attributable to the active anti-tuberculosis propaganda.”

Perhaps no physician was more well-known in Wisconsin—and nationally—on the subject of tuberculosis prevention than Wisconsin Medical Society Past President Hoyt E. Dearholt, MD, of Milwaukee.

In 1908, Dr. Dearholt helped found the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association (WATA), eventually leaving his private practice altogether to become WATA’s executive secretary full time, a position he held until his death in 1939.

During Dr. Dearholt’s tenure with WATA, the organization took significant measures to combat the disease. It made a concerted effort to get the word out through public lectures, exhibits, films, press releases and the “Crusade of the Double Red Cross,” which taught healthy habits to school children. In 1911, WATA advocated for passage of legislation that enabled counties to establish their own TB sanitariums. Over the next 10 years, 12 sanitariums were established throughout Wisconsin. After World War I and through the 1920s, WATA’s traveling clinics helped uncover cases of TB and it aimed programs at pockets of the population where TB rates were higher. By the 1930s, WATA had begun tuberculin testing demonstrations.

At the time of Dr. Dearholt’s death, the mortality rate from TB in Wisconsin had dropped to under 30 per 100,000, according to the CHEST Journal report.

“The splendid chain of sanatoria for the care and treatment of the tuberculosis, the organization of public clinics for the examination of patients, the development of public health nursing, and the broad educational program in tuberculosis continually maintained for the benefit of the citizens of Wisconsin have all been factors that have given our State a most enviable reputation in tuberculosis control and in the public health field. Hoyt E. Dearholt was invariably the motive power that turned these ideals into facts,” stated an editorial published in WMJ in 1939 after Dr. Dearholt’s death.

In 1969, WATA was renamed the Wisconsin Tuberculosis and Respiratory Disease Association, and in 1973, it became known as the Wisconsin Lung Association.

Test your knowledge

Name the two brothers who served as executive secretary (CEO) of the Society. If you know the answer or would like to take a guess, e-mail Jennifer Wieman by noon, Wednesday, May 11. Good luck!

Thomas Zoch, MD, correctly answered last week’s question: Henry Dodge was the governor of the Wisconsin Territory when he signed Act 53 on Feb. 19, 1841, which created the Wisconsin Medical Society.

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