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Children’s Preventorium of Ramsey County

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Heliotherapy at the Children’s Preventorium

Patients at the Children’s Preventorium of Ramsey County play checkers while receiving “heliotherapy” under a sun lamp, ca. 1930.

Between 1915 and 1953 over 950 Ramsey County youth, most between the ages of four and fourteen, resided at the Children’s Preventorium of Ramsey County, in Shoreview. A handful stayed for a day or two; hundreds lived there for years. As its name suggests, the purpose of the Preventorium was to prevent disease—in this case, tuberculosis. It was the only such institution to function in Minnesota.

In 1915 the leading cause of death in Ramsey County (in Minnesota and the United States, too) was tuberculosis, a disease spread from person to person. In St. Paul about one third of the victims were women of childbearing age and people under age twenty. It was a disease of the home.

Tuberculosis (TB) then had no cure and no effective treatment. About half of those afflicted died. While physicians searched for a cure, public health officials worked on prevention. The preventorium, as its name implies, was designed to stop tuberculosis among some children before it started. In this era Minnesota built many tuberculosis sanatoriums for the treatment of people ill with TB. And though the Preventorium arose from the same public health concerns as the sanatoriums, and used some of the same methods, there was an essential difference. Sanatoriums were for the sick. No sick children were allowed into the Preventorium—it was for healthy children only.

Admission to the Preventorium was always voluntary and free. In many cases the children’s families had been touched by a tuberculosis death. Starting in 1926 admission required a referral, usually from a public health worker. Over sixty families sent three or more children to the Preventorium, and one sent nine. The great majority of children came from working-class or poor families.

Preventorium residents slept in outdoor sleeping porches and dressed year-round in oversized diapers known as drapes. They got two hours of schooling daily and two sessions of “heliotherapy,” that is, outdoor sun baths in warm weather, sun lamps in cold weather. The children spent as much time outdoors as the Preventorium’s staff could arrange: sunlight and fresh air were believed to have powers over tuberculosis.

Time spent in the Preventorium ranged from one day to over nine years, with the average stay about thirty months. Many children stayed four years or longer. It was Preventorium policy to release children only when its staff judged their families ready to receive them.

The Preventorium was run mostly by women. From 1916 to 1953 it had one resident director, Margaret Weikert. Teachers, nurses, and social workers were all women. Lena Yugend was its chief social worker during the Preventorium’s formative years. Together they created an institution with many modern features: detailed record-keeping, systematic follow-up, and a student-centered schooling system.

The original buildings were all wood and not well designed for a modern residential facility. In April 1927 a fire damaged the main building and killed a St. Paul firefighter. This event provoked a great outpouring of support and money, which enabled the Preventorium to build a modern, brick main building that opened in 1928.

Though African Americans, nationwide and in Ramsey County, died of tuberculosis at seven times the rate of Euro-Americans, between 1915 and 1950, only one African American child was admitted. She soon died of tuberculosis. By contrast, between 1926 and 1953 some fifty-seven Spanish-surnamed children were admitted.

By the mid-1930s most public health experts had concluded that the preventorium model had no effect on rates of TB infection among children. By this time also, tuberculosis death rates, in Ramsey County and elsewhere, had fallen to half the rate of 1915. The Preventorium nevertheless continued admitting children and made no changes in its methods. Average stays for residents tended to get longer.

Medical science had never found an effective treatment for tuberculosis until the isolation of streptomycin in 1943. In 1948, Joan Rose Danielson, a Preventorium resident, became the first Minnesotan to receive streptomycin treatment (but she stayed in the Preventorium for nearly four more years). By 1950 demand for beds at The Preve (as it was called) had so fallen that it began admitting infants and children with active cases. Ancker Hospital, Ramsey County’s public hospital, took it over in 1950. It closed in 1953.

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“Children’s Preventorium Record of All Admissions and Discharges, 1915 to 1953.” Personal collection of Jacci Kresbsbach, Ramsey County, Minnesota.

Comroe, Julius H. Jr. “Pay Dirt: The Story of Streptomycin. Part I: From Waksman to Waksman.” American Review of Respiratory Disease 117, no. 4 (1978): 773–81.

Connolly, Cynthia A. Saving Sickly Children: The Tuberculosis Preventorium in American Life, 1909–1970. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2014.

Krugerud, Mary. Interrupted Lives: The History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and the Glen Lake Sanatorium. Clearwater, MN: North Star Press, 2017.

Lake Owasso Children’s Home records, 1914–1991
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Records of the facility established in 1910 as the Cuenca Hospital for the Care of Tuberculosis and renamed the Children's Preventorium of Ramsey County in 1919.

Nelson, Paul. “The Children’s Preventorium of Ramsey County.” Ramsey County History 57, no. 4 (Winter 2023): 1–13.

Schatz, Albert B., Elizabeth Bugle, and Selman A. Waksman. “Streptomycin, A Substance Exhibiting Antibiotic Activity Against Gram-Positive and Gram-Negative Bacteria.” Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine 55, no.1 (1944): 66–69.

Wilson, Leonard G. “The Rise and Fall of Tuberculosis in Minnesota: The Role of Infection.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 66, no. 1 (1992): 16–52.

Related Images

Heliotherapy at the Children’s Preventorium
Heliotherapy at the Children’s Preventorium
Children’s Preventorium patients playing basketball
Children’s Preventorium patients playing basketball
Children’s Preventorium patients fishing
Children’s Preventorium patients fishing
Children’s Preventorium patients in a “sun box”
Children’s Preventorium patients in a “sun box”
Patients dancing at the Children’s Preventorium
Patients dancing at the Children’s Preventorium
Lake Owasso Children’s Home (Children’s Preventorium)
Lake Owasso Children’s Home (Children’s Preventorium)

Turning Point

Medical researchers working in a New Jersey laboratory isolate the antibiotic streptomycin in 1943 and determine that it is active against tuberculosis. Streptomycin becomes the first antibiotic cure for tuberculosis, and demand for institutions like the Preventorium falls throughout the 1940s.



Dr. H. Longstreet Taylor founds the Cuenca Sanatorium on Lake Owasso. It closes for lack of money in 1912.


The Children’s Preventorium of Ramsey County opens on the site of the Cuenca Sanatorium. The land belongs to Ramsey County, but a private corporation operates the facility.


The first African American child admitted to the Preventorium, Velma Holland, dies of tuberculosis.


The Preventorium experiments with a nursery for very young children. It closes after one year.


The Preventorium begins requiring a referral for admission. Most children thereafter are referred by the city of St. Paul’s public health department. The first Mexican American child is admitted; fifty-six more would follow.


In April a fire severely damages the Preventorium’s main building. Construction on a new building begins in November.


The new building opens early in the year.


The Preventorium reports vacancies due to the waning of tuberculosis as a killer in Ramsey County.


Albert Schatz, Elizabeth Bugle, and Selman Waksman isolate streptomycin in a New Jersey laboratory.


Schatz, Bugle, and Waksman announce their findings in the Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. After refinement, streptomycin becomes the first effective treatment for tuberculosis.


Joan Danielson, a resident of the Preventorium, becomes the first Minnesotan to receive streptomycin.


The Preventorium begins accepting children with active cases of tuberculosis. Ancker Hospital takes over management. The first African American children since Velma Holland are admitted.


The Preventorium closes. Ramsey County later used its facilities as a residence for the mentally disabled.