Throwback Thursday! The Irene Byron Tuberculosis Sanatorium in the John Martin Smith Collection

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

In the early 1900s, the city of Fort Wayne faced an alarming medical threat. Tuberculosis was spreading rapidly, claiming 122 lives in 1909 alone. One solution to the problem was proposed by a nurse named Irene Byron.


In 1913, Irene Byron joined Fort Wayne’s Anti-Tuberculosis League as a visiting nurse, providing education on sanitation and attempting to catch the disease in its earliest stages. She soon realized this wasn’t enough. By September of 1913, over 600 Fort Wayne residents had tuberculosis, about a third of whom would not survive. The others, however, might have a chance if there were a place to care for them.

Byron, now the League’s executive secretary, suggested a hospital dedicated to TB patients.


The Irene Byron Tuberculosis Sanatorium was dedicated on August 10, 1919. Unfortunately, Byron didn’t live to see it—she died in 1918, while training to be an army nurse.

The Sanatorium housed patients of varying ages, with an entire building dedicated to children. The facilities included a tennis court, wading pool, playground, and library, as well as the latest medical equipment.


Patients were treated through a regimen of rest, healthy diet, light exercise, and fresh air. Sometimes they received a pneumothorax treatment—temporarily collapsing a TB-infected lung to allow it to heal. Recovery, when it happened, was slow. Some patients lived in the Sanatorium for months, or even years.

The Sanatorium remained important in the fight against tuberculosis up until the 1950s, when the TB vaccination was made more widely available in the U.S.

Interested in local medical history? Read our post on Dr. Bonnell M. Souder, or click here and search for “hospital.”

About Katy

Some of the books I've recently come to love include Signal To Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Just City by Jo Walton, Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, and Bug In A Vacuum by Melanie Watt. I'm a firm believer in the power of the Oxford comma.
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