The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates


But the South was still sensitive and angry. We could do nothing effective without cordial southern co-operation. A board of administration composed mainly of distinguished and influential southern men must be organized.

I could easily name such a board, but would they accept membership in the face of a hostile South? I made a tentative list of the men we needed and made my plans for enlisting them. Fortunately, there was about to be held at the hospitable mansion of Mr. George Foster Peabody, at Lake George, a conference of several days, on southern education, to be attended by most of the very men on my list. I arranged with Dr. Stiles to be our guest at Lake George at the time of this conference, and to bring all the equipment for his demonstration. It was easy to persuade Mr. Peabody to set aside an evening for the stereopticon lecture of Dr. Stiles.


The evening came and the effect was overwhelming. The southern guests immediately recognized the mysterious “ground itch” of their barefoot boyhood. But their amazement knew no bounds when Stiles disclosed the previous life history of the cause of the ground itch, from the egg in the soil to the minute worm in the sole of the foot, and then its after history in the blood, until at last it fastened its poisoned fangs in the lining of the intestines, where, increasing in number year by year so long as the victim went barefoot, whether child or adult, it had sometimes reached the number of 5,000 in a single victim. The life cycle of a single worm had been demonstrated to be as long as twelve years.

The distinguished southern leaders present, whom I wanted on my board, were universally known throughout the South and stood among the most influential. They discussed the disabling effects of this disease, vital, educational, economic, moral, and social. They saw in its eradication a new hope for the South.

The world had recently been appalled by the destruction of life in the sinking of the Titanic . But at least ten Titanics full of children and youth were sunk by the fatal ravages of the hookworm every year, to say nothing of the nearly complete disablement of many times the number. Every man I wanted on my board instantly accepted, heedless of the southern criticism sure to come. It could not last long and in time would change to gratitude.

We organized with circumspection so as not to affront southern sensibilities more than necessary. The headquarters should not be in New York, but in the neutral territory of the national capital. We would drop the word hookworm and all special reference to the South from the name of our board, and call it the United States Sanitary Commission.

Dr. Stiles had thought half a million dollars would be needed, and this Mr. Rockefeller had promised me before the Lake George meeting. But to startle the South we fixed on a million, with Mr. Rockefeller’s consent, and got the word into the headlines, and also published the names of the eminent southern leaders on our board. We chose a southern man, Dr. Wickliffe Rose, as executive secretary, a most fortunate choice and the beginning of what has proved to be a great career.

North Carolina was chosen by us as the field of our first great demonstration. Here in the sand hill region the disease was very prevalent and destructive. The state leaders were fearless and able men, and we won them all and so set to work with free hands.

With great skill and tact Dr. Rose enlisted all the influential forces—men and women alike—in all the infected counties of the state. We ourselves, in North Carolina alone, successfully treated over 600,000 cases. The work was thoroughly systematized, the workers were trained scientifically, health boards were organized in every county, public funds were voted, and popular interest became intense and universal.

Meanwhile the other infected states of the South began to call for Dr. Rose and his work. In due course, every county of every state was surveyed, organizations were perfected wherever necessary, health boards were organized, and all practicing physicians were trained in the cause and cure of the disease. After seven years of intense labor, Dr. Rose and his organization, then covering the entire South, had so far exterminated the hookworm there as practically to leave the disease in local hands. His further extensive health work in the South not being mainly concerned with the hookworm belongs to other pages.

But of the hookworm campaign which forms the title of this chapter, the years in the South were not the end but the beginning. The hookworm campaign became world-wide.

The eggs of the hookworm, always deposited on the soil, could not survive heavy or continuous frost. This necessarily limited the disease to the frost line, about thirty degrees of latitude on each side of the equator. It was highly probable that within the frost limits the disease belted the globe.

After consulting Mr. Rockefeller, I wrote Dr. Rose, whose headquarters had remained at Washington, requesting him to make a survey of the prevalence of the disease throughout the world, and for this purpose to use, so far as he could, the diplomatic agencies both of our own country and of all foreign countries with which we were diplomatically connected. Every agency was enlisted in the service and he reported at length the complete confirmation of our fears.