"Rosy Cheeks and Cheery Voices"

Lakeside Home and Preventorium

In the early 1900s, Rhode Island was in the grip of a deadly epidemic – the great white plague. Each year, thousands of Americans died from tuberculosis; for children under the age of five, the disease was one of the top ten causes of death. Highly contagious, tuberculosis spread rapidly through crowded urban tenements in cities like Providence. Early tuberculosis symptoms overlapped with many other diseases – fever, weight loss and lack of appetite, fatigue – but as the disease progressed, the most identifiable feature was a persistent cough. By the time a patient was coughing up blood and sputum they were highly infectious. In particular, children, living and interacting with infected adults, were at great risk of contracting the disease themselves.

Sanatoriums for tuberculosis patients sprang up across the country. In Rhode Island, adults with active tuberculosis were sent to a clinic at Wallum Lake in Burrillville. Initially, no provisions were made for children who had been exposed to the disease but were not actively infectious. A Providence Journal reporter noted: “We have no proper hospital accommodations for tubercular children under 14 years. They must, therefore, remain in their tenement homes regardless of the lack of good food, fresh air, and proper care. The need for an all-year-round home for crippled and debilitated children is great. Perhaps no one knows this better than the tuberculosis worker.” Without careful medical supervision and a healthy diet, exposed children’s chances of developing active tuberculosis dramatically increased.

In 1912, the Providence League for the Suppression of Tuberculosis finally addressed this issue, opening a “preventorium” at the Lakeside Home in Warwick. At this bucolic location, tubercular children were treated to a regime of fresh air and exercise. During the summer, children slept on open-air sleeping porches and spent their days playing outside. The children even received their schooling outside, using an open air shelter as their classroom for all but the bitterest days of winter. Only when the “rosy cheeks and cheery voices of the children denote[d] returning strength and vigor” were they sent back to their homes in the city.

A regiment of doctors and nurses supervised the children at the Preventorium. With neither an inoculation nor a cure for tuberculosis, doctors focused on improving the children’s overall physical well-being. Many of the children arrived at the Preventorium underweight for their age. After several months of care on the Preventorium’s simple, wholesome diet, children often found themselves sprouting up overnight, returning home several inches taller.

Two other groups of underprivileged children were also accommodated at the Lakeside Home, strictly isolated from the potentially infectious children of the Preventorium. Each week during the summer, a repurposed Red Cross ambulance stopped at the Quaker Meeting House in downtown Providence. Families gathered at the site hoping that their children might be approved for a vacation at the Lakeside Home. Children who passed the medical inspection piled into the ambulance with their luggage – by a dint of “scientific packing,” the ambulance could accommodate thirty-five children. At the Lakeside Home, these children from Providence’s urban core enjoyed several weeks of swimming, hiking, and playing games. Year round, the Lakeside Home also accommodated a small number of children who were convalescing from illnesses or operations.

Through the 1940s, The Lakeside Home continued to offer itself as a center for convalescents. However, children’s hospitals and better medical services slowly changed the face of medical care in Rhode Island. By the 1950s, modern antibiotics could now effectively treat and cure tuberculosis. The Preventorium grew obsolete.

On September 19, 1950, the Providence Tuberculosis League ended their operation of the Lakeside Home and Preventorium, transferring the property to Children’s Friend and Service for operation as a temporary shelter for homeless or neglected children.

Images

Lakeside Home

Lakeside Home

This building, constructed in 1897, served first as the site of the Parker Institute of Physical Training, a rest home where overworked businessmen were rehabilitated through fresh air, physical exercise, and wholesome food. Only moderately successful, the building was quickly repurposed as the Lakeside Home and Preventorium where convalescent children and those at risk of developing tuberculosis were sent for care and treatment. Eventually, an entire campus of cottages and buildings were constructed to serve the children’s needs. | Source: Children’s Friend and Service View File Details Page

Children at the Preventorium

Children at the Preventorium

Preventorium treatment consisted of a regime of fresh air and exercise. Here, children sent to the Preventorium in the 1910s are photographed for an article published in the Providence Magazine: The Board of Trade Journal. Although the magazine primarily focused on economic and industrial matters, it did include articles on topics, such as the Preventorium, that showcased Rhode Island as modern and forward-thinking. | Source: Providence Magazine: The Board of Trade Journal View File Details Page

Buildings at the Lakeside Home

Buildings at the Lakeside Home

By 1950, when Children’s Friend and Service acquired the Lakeside Home, the buildings showed their age. Most of the small cottages and bungalows, like this one, dated to the early twentieth century and lacked modern conveniences and handicap accessibility. In the mid-1950s, Children’s Friend and Service built a new residential facility that they continued to operate until financial difficulties necessitated its closure in 1981. By the early 1990s, that facility had also been demolished, replaced by the suburban development that stands on the former Lakeside Home property today. | Source: Children’s Friend and Service View File Details Page

Lakeside Home

Lakeside Home

After the Lakeside Home and Preventorium passed from the Providence Tuberculosis League to Children’s Friend and Service, the property was operated as an emergency shelter where homeless or neglected children could stay before being transferred to the State Home and School or placed with a foster family. | Source: Providence Public Library View File Details Page

Video

ON THE LAKE: Life and Love in a Distant Place

This clip from a documentary by David Bettencourt and G. Wayne Miller tells the story of the tuberculosis epidemic through the lives of those that were infected and who died – but also of those who survived. One of the sites featured in the film was the Wallum Lake Sanatorium in northwestern Rhode Island where hundreds of tuberculosis patients were sent after it opened in 1905. Many of their children spent time at the Lakeside Preventorium. | Source: Eagle Peak Media View File Details Page

Street Address:

86 Zachariah Pl
Warwick, RI 02889 [map]

Cite this Page:

Rebecca Soules, “"Rosy Cheeks and Cheery Voices",” Rhode Tour, accessed August 20, 2017, http://rhodetour.org/items/show/27.
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