Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Curing Syphillis: Camp Garraday

I can tell you I never thought I'd be writing about venereal disease on a family history blog. But when I found an ancestor's Young Man's WWII draft card and it said his address was Camp Garraday, Hot Springs, Arkansas, well, it made me wonder. What kind of camp was it; after all, he wasn't yet in the Army? A Google search revealed the very interesting history of Camp Garraday.

The practice of bathing in hot or cold baths to cure diseases dates from prehistoric times. The U.S. government first acquired title to the hot springs in Arkansas in 1818 when the Quapaw Indians ceded the land to them. Fourteen years later the federal government declared the hot springs a reservation for public use.

Hot Springs became known as the place to go to "take the baths" while receiving mercury treatments for syphilis, including Al Capone. Physicians at Hot Springs prescribed ten times the amount of mercury for bathers, which may have had more to do with the cure success ratio than the baths.

When the Public Health Service examined the World War I draft cards, they were astounded by the levels of venereal disease revealed during medical examinations. In response the Chamberlain-Kahn Act was passed and the Public Health Service added a new Division of Venereal Disease. The new division was to work in cooperation with states' to help prevent and gain control of the disease as well as prevent interstate transmission.

A new bathhouse and clinic were planned at Hot Springs, which was to serve as a model for the treatment of venereal disease. Treatment of syphilis changed over time at the clinic. Arsenical compounds, such as arsphenamine, were used in the 1920s, and sulfa drugs in the 1930s.

Administering arsphenamine circa 1925; photograph courtesy of the
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

The Depression brought new challenges as many who came to Hot Springs to be treated were indigent. The Arkansas Transient Bureau was created in 1933, and the bureau quickly built Camp Garraday to handle the influx of people coming to be treated. Under an agreement between the bureau and the Public Health Service, people housed at Camp Garraday could be treated for venereal disease at the clinic. In 1935, 14,946 applicants were examined at the venereal disease clinic.

Lobby of Public Health Service Venereal Disease Clinic in Hot Springs
where patients were registered; photograph courtesy of the University of
Arkansas for Medical Sciences

With the advent of penicillin, patients began to be treated locally and the Free Government Bathhouse closed in 1953. Camp Garraday, which provided domicile for many indigent patients, is now within the boundaries of the Hot Springs National Park and houses the administrative offices of the Hot Springs school district.

I hope you found the history of Camp Garraday as interesting as I did.

Because I discovered the ancestor, who was living at Camp Garraday when he was drafted through an AncestryDNA match, who is obviously still living, I am not including his name or biographical details.


  1. Schalene,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/07/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-july-25-2014.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Interesting read as I now live in Hot Springs!

    1. It's a beautiful part of the country. I knew the springs were popular for those "taking the waters" to cured what ailed them, but I had no idea about STDs. I found out by Googling the camp name because I couldn't understand why he got drafted if he was already in the Army....I had assumed the camp was an Army factility. Silly me.

  3. You should know that the arsphenamine you mentioned is also known as "606" because it was the 606-th compound tested in the search for syphillis treatment.