Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 3, 1888, Part II
Mr. Bayard to Mr. Magee.
Washington, September 12, 1888.
Sir: I inclose herewith copies of letters from our consul at Christiania and from the secretary of the State board of health of Iowa, relating to the deportation of persons afflicted with leprosy from Norway into the State of Iowa.
You will bring the matter to the attention of the Norwegian authorities, and inform the consul at Christiania of the statement made in Dr. Kennedy’s letter that the affected persons came to the United States from Stavanger, Norway.
I am, etc.,
Mr. Gade to Mr. Kennedy.
Christiania, August 15, 1888.
Dear Sir: I am in receipt of your favor of July 14, relating to the importation into your State of two cases of leprosy from Norway, and understand your indignation at this introduction of a most dangerous disease.
In my consular district, which only embraces the southern and eastern Norway, [Page 1485] hardly any cases of leprosy are to be found, while there are about 1,300 persons who at the present moment are known to be affected with leprosy in this country scattered all over the western and northern districts. It is a fact, fully established by the annual statistics published by the Government’s board of health, that the number of lepers is constantly and rapidly decreasing. While in 1860 the lepers who lived outside the asylum numbered 2,223, only 633 were to be found at the end of 1685. In the latter year 15 new cases had been discovered, 63 had died, 55 had been removed to the asylums, 15 had left their former districts (in some cases perhaps also the country), and 7 cases were cured. At the end of 1885,524 (255 of whom were men and 269 women) remained at five asylums established for the treatment of lepers. Seventy had died during the course of the year. On the whole, it is believed that leprosy will gradually disappear from this country, or at least be confined to some few districts on the coast, where the people are poor, and occupied with fishing in a hard climate.
Relating to the two cases of leprosy recently imported from the district of Stavanger, into your State, I venture to say that the local authorities of the district were entirely ignorant of their going to America, and that at least no purpose of getting rid of the unhappy sufferers did exist here. Everybody is allowed, without any restriction, to emigrate from Norway, and the two women in question, who probably have relations in Iowa, had only to go to Stavanger and Bergen and buy their tickets for the passage, without communicating beforehand with any of the local authorities. A very superficial medical examination of emigrants is ordered at the shipping ports, but the examiners would hardly have any time for discovering those affected by leprosy without being previously informed of their disease and of their intention to conceal it.
It would certainly be of interest to know the name of the parish whence the two women hailed. It might then be ascertained through the pastor of the locality, who would know them and their families, and whether it was known that they had gone to America. It might then be ascertained from what source they had got their passage-money, and whether they ever had been assisted by the poor board or others. The district of Stavanger is not a specially infected district, as you seem to believe. At the end of 1885 it had only 56 lepers living out of the asylums, while the district of Northern Berzenhuns had at the same time 156. I am bound to repeat, that in my opinion no authorities of that district would have thought of throwing off the two leprous women to let America take future charge of them.
The regulations now in force regarding the lepers in Norway are contained in the law of June 6, 1885, on separation of lepers and treatment of them in public asylums or hospitals. The law prescribes that lepers shall not be lodged with private people at public expense, but in case of needing public assistance they shall, by the poor boards, be admitted to the public asylums.
If destitute lepers are not treated in such asylums, they shall either be kept in separate dwelling rooms or be treated in such way as the boards of health may deem it sufficiently safe.
The law prescribes also that other lepers (besides the destitute ones) may also be ordered by the boards of health to live separated from their family and friends, and if such order should be disobeyed, they shall be treated at the public asylums.
Rooms, clothing, bedding, and other effects which have been used by lepers must not be in use or be handed over to other persons without being previously disinfected by order of the respective boards of health.
The proper way to prevent lepers from emigrating to America in the future would, in my opinion, be to bring the subject before the American Government, which then probably would insist, with the Government of Norway, that a strict and scrupulous medical examination be made of all emigrants from the western districts of Norway. It is not in my power as consul at Christiania, where no leprosy exists, to take any steps against that emigration of which you justly complain. I will add to my foregoing observations that I am aware that more than ten years ago leprosy was introduced into the Northwestern States of the United States through emigants from Norway, and that Professor Boeck, the celebrated dermatologist, had himself made careful inquiries in America about the Norwegian people there who had brought the disease with them from the old country. Also last winter Dr. Armauer Hanser, a well-known specialist in the treatment of leprosy, went to America to visit there lepers of Norwegian origin.
I have tried to give this important subject my best attention, and will be glad to learn that through diplomatic intervention some effective means maybe found to stop further introduction of the disease into the United States. If I can do anything to attain this end I will consider myself very happy.
United States Consul.
P. S.—I inclose herewith for your further information a copy of the law of June 6, 1885, above referred to. You will easily find a Norwegian as your neighbor competent to translate it into English if you should wish to.
Mr. Kennedy to Mr. Allison.
Des Moines, September 1, 1888.
Dear Sir: I desire to call your attention to the inclosed letter from Gerhard Gade, United States consul at Christiania, Norway, replying to a communication from this office in regard to the exportation of lepers from Norway into this State.
In March was reported to the State hoard of health a case of leprosy in the person of a young woman, aged twenty-four years, recently arrived direct from Stavanger, Norway. She had been affected for ten years. The local health officers took cognizance of the case, and directed that she he sent to her brother at Chicago, where she could be placed in, hospital. He refused to receive her, and she was taken to her father near Le Grand, Marshall County, where she now is.
In June another case was reported from Le Grand, also recently from Stavanger, a married woman in an advanced stage of the disease, and which rapidly progressed to a fatal termination August 11.
In both these cases there was studied effort made to conceal the disease, the true nature of which was revealed only by persistent questioning of the attending physician.
Now, it must have been known to the health authorities of the place whence these women came that they were lepers, or from leprous families.
As may be readily supposed, the people of Iowa are greatly alarmed at this evidently intentional importation of that horrible and contagious disease into this State. We therefore pray you, as their representative, to take such immediate measures as may be deemed necessary to prevent such outrages.
Consul Gade suggests previous medical examination, but that is not sufficient. The prohibition should include, also all persons known to be of leprous families; for the incubation period of leprosy varies in different individuals from a few weeks or months to ten years. It not unfrequently skips a generation, so that a medical examination would not detect an infected person in whom the incubation was slow.
Consul Gade will be further advised, so far as possible, to aid in tracing the initial point of these cases, and how and why they came to Iowa. Their friends here are very reticent regarding them.
Whether the necessary relief can be had through the Secretary of State or only by act of Congress you are best informed.
We earnestly ask that you give the subject early attention.