The pellagra hospital in Spartanburg was the nation’s first facility dedicated to discovering the cause of that baffling and serious disorder. Established in 1914 with a special congressional appropriation to the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and set up primarily for research, the hospital was the result of mutually reinforcing factors. One was pellagra’s growing threat: 1,306 reported pellagra deaths in South Carolina during the first ten months of 1915; 100,000 southerners infected in 1916. Another was the need of the PHS—and of the rising epidemiologist Joseph Goldberger—for a clinic to conduct metabolic studies on pellagra to establish its probable dietary origin. Goldberger ultimately proved that preventive foods would stymie the disease. In addition, there was the enlightened influence of interested parties, notably Spartanburg civic leaders and South Carolina’s congressional delegation, who were willing to have that city linked publicly to pellagra in order to obtain federal help in curbing what had become an epidemic of threatening proportions. By the time the hospital shut down in 1921, owing to optimistic but erroneous predictions of pellagra’s imminent demise, the Spartanburg facility had helped scientists prove the dietary basis of pellagra and enabled hundreds of upstate South Carolinians to rid themselves—at government expense—of a life-threatening disease.
“Annual Report of the State Board of Health.” In Reports and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina, Regular Session Commencing January 11, 1916. Vol. 4. Columbia, S.C.: Gonzales and Bryan, 1915–1916.