On the Road Again: Consumptives Traveling for Health in the American West, 1840–1925

Publication Date

Fall 2010

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Center for Judaic Studies


From the first decades of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of health seekers, on the advice of their physicians, family members, or popular advertisements, took to the road to "chase the cure" for tuberculosis, the most dreaded disease of the era. Indeed, tuberculosis, also commonly known as consumption or "the White Plague," held the dubious distinction of being the leading cause of death in nineteenth-century America. In the first years of the twentieth century 150,000 Americans died of it yearly, and more than ten times that number were afflicted with the disease. Whether they came by horse, wagon, stagecoach, ship, train, or later by automobile, many of these men and women, propelled by hope and often desperation, made their way across the Great Plains to the American West, their destination in search of renewed health. In other words, traveling for health became the prescription for numerous consumptives, and transportation became the means for "filling" the prescription.

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