Tent on the Grounds - c. 1899

At the turn of the 20th Century, African-American male patients at the Maryland Hospital (Spring Grove) often lived in tents on the hospital's grounds. Although it might be assumed that the tents were used only during the summer months, an annual report from the period notes that the men sometimes lived in the tents for as many as eight months out of the year -- even though indoor quarters were provided at other times. The question of why the tents were used has not been fully answered, but it is known that at the turn of the 20th century a number of hospitals (including Spring Grove) used tents to isolate patients with infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. (In the early 1900s, the rate of TB among African-American patients at Spring Grove was higher than it was for patients of European descent.) A 1905 report that outlines the steps that were being taken to manage tuberculosis at Spring Grove mentions use of tents to isolate cases of active tuberculosis. This report notes that the tents were, in fact, used as a (somewhat unsatisfactory) method of infection control and emphasizes that they were uncomfortable in inclement weather, such as during heavy rains, high winds, or cold temperatures. The report also says that the tents were fairly expensive to use in the long run because they tended to wear quickly and had to be replaced fairly often. Furthermore, as the report points out, tubercular patients still had to be brought into the Main Building during the winter or during storms -- and the Main Building's units all shared a central ventilation system, which meant that transmission of T.B. throughout the building was still a distinct possibility whenever this occurred. While it is clear that the tents were sometimes used to isolate cases of tuberculosis, several Spring Grove documents from the period specifically mention the fact that the tents were used regularly by African-American men, yet none of these records provide any clear indication that, at least prior to 1913, the tents were ever used by white patients or, for that matter, by African-American women, regardless of their health statuses. Accordingly, it may be reasonable to conclude that, within the context of the practice of prioritized segregation, at least one of the reasons for the use of the tents was simply a lack of adequate indoor living space for African-American men. (The use of tents to house African-American male patients clearly occurred during an era in which State officials insisted upon racial segregation in all of its institutions.) Production records from the hospital's industrial shops show that the tents were manufactured by patient labor at the hospital. (Note: The "Cottage for Colored Women" was converted to the Hospital's "T.B. Cottage" [for white women] when the African-American women patients who had occupied this cottage were transferred to Crownsville State Hospital in 1913. However, a report from 1915 suggests that the tents were also still used at that time, evidently for white patients, for tuberculosis isolation.)