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 Kehrer Tuberculosis Hospital Aided Thousands of Patients

 
 

Humanitarian work in Madison County has taken many forms in our history but the efforts of one woman and the hospital named for her exemplify the very highest level of service.  Named the Ella B. Kehrer Tuberculosis Hospital for the local woman who was the driving force behind its establishment, the hospital provided comfort and rest for tubercular patients of Madison County.

Today, nothing remains of the institution that was located at the east end of Tenth Street on the bluffs 100 feet above White River. 

The hospital was dedicated in 1924 to the memory of the soldiers and sailors from Madison County who lost their lives through tuberculosis while serving in World War I.  Thirteen acres in the beautiful forest of trees contained three cottages built to house 22 adults and 25 children.

When it opened, the hospital was equipped with almost every convenience for the proper treatment of patients.  The large screened sleeping porches which surrounded each cottage made it possible for patients to sleep protected in the fresh air which was considered essential to their treatment.  The largest of the three cottages, a two-story structure, measured 36-by-42 feet, and the other two ere one-story structures measuring 28-by-35 feet.  The largest cottage contained a dining hall and kitchen on the first floor;  the second floor was used for sleeping quarters.  The other two cottages were devoted entirely to sleeping quarters.

It took nine months to construct at the cost of $10,000.  The site also contained a stone pumping house, large cellars for refrigeration and outdoor drinking fountains.  The construction and operation of the hospital was funded by the county.

The years preceding the hospital's establishment were difficult ones for the county's tubercular stricken.  Inadequate equipment, meager funds and the necessity of combating the disease in the home of the consumptives contributed to a high death rate.

When Kehrer arrived in Anderson in 1907 from Redkey, she was recovering from tuberculosis, which had taken the lives of four family members.  She immediately began her work traveling the county by horse and buggy to speak and show steropticon views at public assemblies informing people about the disease.

During 1909, she devised portable tuberculosis sleeping huts called Kehrer Shacks, which were designed to make outdoor sleeping popular and beneficial.  Sixteen shacks were built and furnished.  They were placed in the years at the patient's home, thus, educating the whole neighborhood as well as preventing the family from contracting the disease at the same time.  However, more work had to be done.

 In 1914, she organized the first ever observance of Health Day which was held in Anderson.  Representatives from foreign countries and public officials from many cities attended.  

In 1918, an epidemic of influenza occurred that was enormous in its size.  Kehrer was given the task of directing the county's efforts to combat the illness.  She utilized the third story of Saint John's Hospital to care for the afflicted.  She was a tireless worker for improving the health of our county, but her strongest passion was to establish a place where persons with tuberculosis could receive proper care.

Dr. Ernest M. Conrad, the Health Officer of Anderson, knowing the great need of a suitable place to take tuberculosis sufferers for their own good, and for the good of others, contacted Kehrer and asked if she needed some ground.  Conrad then gave her all the ground she needed in back of the Pest House(the location where smallpox and contagious patients were taken) on the river which became the hospital site.

The huts were moved to the site but were inadequate for winter living quarters.  Pipes froze and the huts were too cold for the sick patients.  A more substantial building was needed and Dr. Conrad offered the Pest House.  The building was in need of substantial renovations and was made ready early in 1927.

An important feature of the hospital was called the Children's Preventorium.  It was a summer health camp for sick children.  For two months each summer children could receive good food, medical/dental care and education in good health habits.  Ability to pay did not affect treatment at the hospital.  County residents were charged $5 a week, but those who were poor received free treatment.  Out-of-county residents paid $15 a week.

Changing Indiana hospital standards and other options available to Indiana's tuberculosis patients brought the closing of the hospital in 1947.  Afterwards, thought was given to making a nursing home on the property, but in time the buildings deteriorated.  The property which is now called Tanglewood is owned by the Anderson Community Schools.

It is estimated that 3,000 patients were given care at the hospital, and thousands of others benefited through clinics conducted at the hospital during its twenty-three years of operation.

Ella Kehrer lived to the age of 98, passing away October 26, 1962.  She and her husband, Albert, are buried in East Maplewood Cemetery.  The life of Ella Bagot Kehrer is a tribute to what caring for our fellow man is really all about.  It is to her memory that this article is dedicated.

By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian  

 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765) 683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net

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