Stalking the Great Killer
Arkansas's Long War on Tuberculosis
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
268 Pages | 6 x 9 | 19 B&W Illus.
To place the story of tuberculosis in Arkansas in historical perspective, the authors trace the origins of the disease back to the Stone Age. As they explain, it became increasingly lethal in the nineteenth century, particularly in Europe and North America. Among U.S. states, Arkansas suffered some of the worst ravages of the disease, and the authors argue that many of the improvements in the state’s medical infrastructure grew out of the desperate need to control it.
In the early twentieth century, Arkansas established a state-owned sanitarium in the northwestern town of Booneville and, thirty years later, the segregated Black sanitarium outside Little Rock. These institutions helped slow the “Great Killer” but at a terrible cost: removed from families and communities, patients suffered from the trauma of isolation. Joseph Bates saw this when he personally delivered an uncle to the Booneville sanitarium as a teen in the 1940s. In the 1960s, Bates, now himself a physician, and his physician colleague Paul Reagan overcame a resistant medical-political system to develop a new approach to treating the disease without the necessity of prolonged isolation. This approach, consisting of brief hospitalization followed by outpatient treatment, became the standard of care for the disease.
Americans today, having gained control of the disease in the United States, seldom look back. Yet, in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, this compelling history, based on extensive research and eyewitness testimony, offers valuable lessons for the present about community involvement in public health, the potential efficacy of public-private partnerships, and the importance of forward-thinking leadership in the battle to eradicate disease.
"In Stalking the Great Killer, Arkansas's efforts to control tuberculosis are deftly woven into the broader picture of tuberculosis-related developments throughout the world, putting them into perspective and context. The result is an interesting, inspirational, and important narrative which is also a tremendous contribution to the field of public health.This is a story that needs to be told."—Mary Ryan, medical historian
"Stalking the Great Killer is global history on a local scale. The story of Arkansas’s fight against TB mirrors that of countless places around the world as scientists, doctors, public health workers, and citizens struggled to understand this lethal disease. Arkansas’s history is both unique and typical. Readers looking for a well-written tale of what it takes to understand and finally wrest control of an infectious disease—lessons we can all benefit from in the era of Covid—will find much in this book."—Christian McMillen, author of Discovering Tuberculosis: A Global History, 1900 to the Present.
"Weaving together personal stories with surprising historical details, Stalking the Great Killer is a deeply affecting history of Arkansas’s battles against the terror of tuberculosis. Authors Floyd and Bates provide lessons of compassion in the face of mortal disease, and examples of leadership in the face of prejudice and bureaucracy."—Lynn Downey, author of the award-winning Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women (OU Press).