Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The historiography of tuberculosis, “TB,” covers four periods in the United States. During the Victorian Age, TB was classified as consumption. After Robert Koch’s discovery of the tubercle bacillus in the 1882, the germ theory took precedence. The early 1900s saw the rise of the Sanatorium Age, and finally, the antibiotic revolution of the 1940s and 1950s began the current understanding of the disease. Missing from this periodization is an era in which surgery took precedence as the preferred treatment for tuberculosis. This study corrects the historiography by arguing for a recognizable Surgical Age in the 1930s and 1940s. With the benefits of hindsight, historians have dismissed the Surgical Age. Many fail to make any mention of it at all. Those scholars who do tend to lump surgery in with the Sanatorium Age, assuming surgical treatment was simply an extension of the rest cure. The few who do recognize the Surgical Age as a distinct era mistakenly dismiss it as a negligible “blip” before the discovery of antibiotics. All of these scholars miss the crucial importance of the Surgical Age and the interplay of politics, medicine, and the public in shaping it. This study examines the Mississippi State Sanatorium as a case study of the Surgical Age. In hindsight, we can see that surgery did not produce the most favorable results in treating tuberculosis, but the fact is, surgeons and physicians at the time thought that it did. Politicians promoted it to their constituents. And the public, in turn, demanded it. For two decades, surgical therapy dominated the pioneering techniques for pulmonary tuberculosis treatment. To correct the historical narrative, the Surgical Age needs to be recognized as a separate era that rose out of the sanatorium’s search for legitimacy during the Great Depression. As this thesis shows, this legitimacy was contingent upon the ongoing support of the public, politicians, physicians, and patients.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Lewis, Carolyn



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History Commons