Pellagra was a disease that affected hundreds of thousands of residents within the southeastern region of the United States from the time of its first known reports in the early 1900's to the end of World War II, in 1945. Dr. Joseph Goldberger, from New York, was given credit for finding the cure for Pellagra. Contributing to the Goldberger's cure were the discoveries of doctors and scientists prior to and during the time that Dr. Goldberger was working on the cure himself.
Pellagra was a painful disease that over time slowly killed the people that were afflicted with the disease. Pellagra, occurring almost exclusively in the poorer classes, is easily observed by the discoloration and thickening of the skin (usually the hands, neck, and the feet). The lesions on the skin are usually spread evenly, symmetrical on both sides of the body. Other symptoms of pellagra are reddened tongue and a scalding sensation in the mouth. This disease eventually causes weakness, nervousness, indigestion, and in advanced stages, diarrhea and various forms of insanity. (Trail To Light p. 288).
Pellagra was a disease that had already been dealt with in southern Europe for nearly two hundred years prior to the first reported case in the United States (The Butterfly Caste, Preface VII). Pellagra was first noticed by Spanish peasants, and reported by Don Gaspar Casal in 1735 (War on Pellagra, p.1). The disease was often mistaken for leprosy. Pellagra, meaning, "rough skin", was first termed in 1771 by Francesco Frapolli in Milan (American Heritage, p.74). At first, this disease was viewed as a disease of the poor, but later it was linked to poverty that was common in southern Europe.
Dr. Harris, a physician from Atlanta, Georgia, first reported pellagra in the United States in March 1902, after examining a Georgia farmer who had been suffering with seasonal outbreaks of the pellagra rash for some fifteen years (The Butterfly Caste, PP.3-4). What Dr. Harris observed was that the farmer lived in unusual poverty and had always eaten bread made from Indian corn. Poverty and corn would be two factors that were often discussed during the years that pellagra was spreading throughout the southern region of the United States (The Butterfly Caste, p.4).
On November 26, 1909, Spartanburg Medical Society held a conference in which the speaker pointed out that Pellagra was the most deadly of any of the diseases in the South at the time (A Brief History of Medicine, p.68). The statistics were staggering. Fifty-seven percent of the patients in the Mental Hospital in Columbia were diagnosed with Pellagra (A Brief History of Medicine, p.68). A speech about these patients diagnosed with Pellagra, by Dr. James Babcock, drove the efforts of the Medical Association, County Delegation, and South Carolina upstate cotton mill presidents to form the National Society for the Study of Pellagra headed by Dr. Babcock (A Brief History of Medicine, p.68). Dr. Babcock was one of South Carolina's most distinguished physicians. He was a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, and for the years prior to his position in the National Society, was superintendent of the South Carolina State Hospital for the Insane (Butterfly Caste p. 19).
By 1912, the state of South Carolina alone reported thirty thousand cases of pellagra, with a forty percent mortality rate (War on Pellagra, p.1). Though the disease was evident throughout the country, pellagra was to be mostly found in the southern states. The "Good Samaritan Building" which was built in 1914, was a Public Health Service Hospital that was located on the corner of College and Forest Streets in Spartanburg, S.C. (Spartanburg Herald). The hospital served for almost all the research that was done in the South, especially Spartanburg County where the possibility of transmissibility of the disease was tested (A Brief History of Medicine). This location, in large part, was due to the number of...