From the late 19th century until 1940 tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States. Many people suffering from the disease came to the high desert mountains of New Mexico in search of a cure. There were sanatoriums throughout the region that cared for the tuberculars. In the northeastern part of Santa Fe, Sunmount Sanitarium, was nestled up to the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat and Conference Center is located there today.
Santa Fe’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center
Sunmount Sanitorium began as a group of tent houses and small cottages in 1880. Dr. Frank Mera and his wife built a hospital to care for the “lungers,” as they were called back then. Prior to the advent of antibiotics the primary treatment for the sick was pristine air, sunshine, low humidity and pollution and the high altitude of northern New Mexico.
Giving Back to New Mexico
Many people stayed once they were cured contributing greatly to the vitality of Santa Fe and the state of New Mexico. They included the artist Carlos Vierra who advocated for the Pueblo Revival of architecture that has become synonymous with Santa Fe’s unique landscape. The architect John Gaw Meem who contracted tuberculosis while working on the New York City subway system. Will Shuster, the artist who created Zozobra, suffered mustard gas poisoning during World War I that weakened his lungs. New Mexico U.S. Senators Clinton P. Anderson and Bronson Cutting. Tingley Hospital in Albuquerque is named for Carrie Tingley the wife of Governor Clyde Tingley. And Dr. William Randolph Lovelace whose name graces one of the major hospitals in the state caring for people with all types of ailments including tuberculosis.