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The White Plague in the City of Angels

Caroline Luce, Author

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The Sanatorium Controversy, 1914

Word of the JCRA’s fundraising success was not well received by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors or the County Department of Public Health. Since the turn of the century, these officials had worked to stop the flow of tuberculars to the city, publishing warnings advising health seekers that there was “no free care” available in Los Angeles and advising charitable organizations across the country to stop sending tuberculars in need to Los Angeles. The creation of the JCRA’s Duarte sanatorium and their plans to offer care free of charge threatened to re-open the floodgates and were a cause of great concern among the members of the County Board of Supervisors.

The concerns over the JCRA’s plans were shared by the city’s Jewish elites, who worried that their charities, including Kaspare Cohn Hospital, would be overwhelmed by more new arrivals suffering from "the white plague."  In the pages of the B’nai B’rith Messenger, they expressed concerns that the sanatorium would be a reduplication of their charitable efforts, questioned the underlying motives of its founders, and doubted the JCRA’s ability to manage its funds. [26]  "We ought not to induce the sick to come here," one organization's director said, "with our climate here there is no estimate of how many will come here." [27] Those involved with the JCRA criticized the Messenger for not reporting on their successes and souring the public's impressions of their efforts, rather than encouraging positive public opinion as the Los Angeles Times did. They crafted their own appeals directly to the Messenger's readers calling for unity.  In one such article, Dr. Kate Levy, who was the only female member of the JCRA Board of Directors and active in the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, wrote:
“This is the first organized effort of the Jewish masses for an institution other than one for religious purposes only... Can all classes of our people…work harmoniously for one great cause? Is there a spirit of tolerance among the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the agnostic and the believing Jew?... We are surely one before the Giver of all that makes life worth living - in the gifts of Love and Strength and Health! Let us then devote what we have of these to one of Life's best privileges, the helping of our weaker brother and sister while life and power are yet ours before the evening comes and the dark hour of eternal rest!" [28]
JCRA leaders met with local rabbis, including Solomon Hecht and Isidore Myers whose work on behalf of Kaspare Cohn Hospital had been crucial to its development, to address their concerns and both soon became prominent spokesmen in the campaign to fund the sanatorium's construction.  Barnett Cohen, JCRA President, along with Aaron Shapiro and other founding members of the JCRA, also arranged a meeting with H.W. Frank, then President of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, to "iron out" the "misunderstandings" between their organizations. As a result, the JCRA "gained many friends" and earned broad support from the local Jewish community. [30] 

However, resistance to the JCRA's effort to build the sanatorium outside of the Jewish community continued to grow. And just as it had for Kaspare Cohn Hospital, resistance took the form of legislation. According to accounts of JCRA leaders, just weeks after they purchased their plot of land, Pasadena’s member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, whose district included Duarte, proposed an ordinance to regulate the establishment and operation of all sanatoriums, hospitals and institutions. The proposed bill would have provided that “no institution shall have the right to open its doors to the public unless such an institution shall have obtained the consent of 75% of its neighbors within a radius of one mile.” The leaders of the JCRA caught wind of the impending bill and, realizing that it could strengthen the opposition to their efforts, rushed to action. They noticed that similar legislation governing cemeteries included a “grandfather clause” protecting those pre-existing institutions and so, on January 11th, 1914, just three days after the legislation was proposed, they built their first two cottages and moved their first patient, a cook and an orderly to Duarte. They declared the sanatorium “open and in operation,” pre-empting the impending bill. The County Supervisors soon dropped the ordinance all together, and the JCRA's sanatorium was established. [29] 

Unfortunately, the original buildings were wiped out just weeks later when the rainy season set in and floods inundated the sanatorium grounds. But Arbeter Ring (Workmen's Circle) stepped in, funding new cottages to replace the first ones. The JCRA's Ladies Auxiliary also raised funds to erect a larger "Pavilion" building a few months later. These grassroots efforts soon earned the appreciation of some of the leading American Jewish philanthropists at the time, including Nathan Straus and Albert Kuppenheimer, who visited the campus in 1915 and funded cottages of their own.  Their donations also helped to attract the support of some to the city’s wealthier Jewish residents, perhaps most importantly Irving W. Hellman, who presided over Hellman Commercial Trust & Savings Bank, and loaned the JCRA $1,500 to pay off the mortgage on their Duarte land. He later served as treasurer of the JCRA.  

So while the JCRA’s sanatorium was founded by a distinctly different group of individuals and organizations than those who spearheaded the development of Kaspare Cohn Hospital, from their earliest days, the efforts of the two institutions overlapped in important ways. Both were initially resisted by community and civic leaders, but eventually earned broad-based support. Both institutions were managed by female doctors and nursing staffs with the help of multiple local male doctors who volunteered their time.  Both were supported by the fundraising efforts of their large memberships. And while the individuals involved in that support differed considerably in their politics, both institutions were leaders in the efforts to treat those suffering from tuberculosis in the city.
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