November 18, 1905

First Lepers Arrive on Penikese Island


On this day in 1905, five lepers arrived on Penikese Island in Buzzard's Bay, the site of the first and only leprosarium in Massachusetts. Over the next 16 years, 36 victims of leprosy, or Hansen's disease, lived on the isolated island, along with a handful of caregivers. Dr. Frank Parker and his wife, Marion, went to great lengths to make the patients comfortable, providing good food, fresh air, exercise, entertainment, and nursing, but it was nearly impossible to overcome the stigma and social ostracism associated with leprosy. Still, the island produced stories of great courage, kindness, and fortitude. The colony closed when the federal government opened a leprosy hospital in Louisiana. 


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