Led by Dr. Elva A. Wright, the San Jacinto Lung Association was first established on November 11, 1911 as the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League. In the early 20th Century, Houston had a higher death rate of tuberculosis than the national average with two in 1000 persons dying from the disease in 1910. At the time, there was no organized movement to address the public health crisis in the city. The founding members were Dr. Wright, Mrs. J. G. Love (General Secretary of United Charities), Sybil Campbell (Headworker at Rusk Settlement House), Dr. T. B. Thorning, and Dr. M. B. Stokes. They modeled the organization on the National Anti-Tuberculosis Association and the Texas State Anti-Tuberculosis Association, which were establish a few years before in 1904 and 1908 respectively.
The Association was a non-profit, community-driven organization dedicated to engage the people of Houston to control, prevent, and educate the community about tuberculosis. Its primary focus and goals were to: Educate public of cause and symptoms. Promote healthy living. Establish free clinic. Employ visiting public health nurses. Develop sanitariums and hospitals. Advocate for laws to control tuberculosis. Encourage city and county health departments to lead fight.
Through the years they operated daily clinics for treatment and diagnosis of tuberculosis as well as conducted mass-screenings using chest X-rays and skin tests. As the the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis became more effective, the Association started to address other respiratory diseases, and provided lung performance tests to screen for emphysema and asthma.
The Association’s first clinic space was a five room cottage at 55 Gable St. It was loaned to the organization by the Mayor of Houston, H. Baldwin Rice. It opened on January 21, 1912, but after 3 months the space was reallocated for a new school, forcing the members to use their private practices to treat tuberculosis patients. On December 13, 1913, the Association opened its first free clinic at 608 Bagby St. It was a modest bungalow built through the donations of area labor unions and merchants. The Association remained at this location, in some capacity, into the 1950s. The bungalow was expanded, moved, and reinforced against the eroding bayou banks in the 1930s. In 1938, the free clinic services were moved to the basement Jefferson Davis Hospital. September 15, 1957, the Association moved into its newly built headquarters at 2901 West Dallas Avenue. Aubrey Calvin led the $125,000 building project with funds donated through the Christmas Seal campaign.
In 1918 the first tuberculosis hospital and sanatorium opened in Houston. Located at what is now Shepherd Drive and Allen Parkway. The hospital was tax-supported and operated by the city with additional funds from Harris County. Facilities were expanded to treat more and more cases, especially children. Through the donation of Mrs. James L. Autry, the Autry School opened in 1925 and provided children with undisrupted education while they were treated at the hospital. In 1947 the City of Houston took over full operation of the clinic and public health nursing services allowing the Association to focus more on its education and prevention services. Through more effective drug treatments and the Association’s programs, like school screening in 1930s, chest X-rays in 1940s, and mobile X-ray units in 1950s, the tuberculosis death rate declined significantly in Houston.
Dr. Elva A. Wright led the effort to establish an anti-tuberculosis association to prevent and treat tuberculosis in Houston. She said, “I’d rather be remembered for the disease I prevented than for the disease I cured.” Dr. Wright was born in Pennsylvania in 1868 and received her medical degree from Northwestern University in 1900. She practiced obstetrics, but her interest turned to tuberculosis and its effect on children during her post-graduate work in Europe and Chicago. She opened her office in Houston within the Temple Building on Main St., and through her practice, she saw how tuberculosis affected children and families throughout the city. She served as president of the Association until her death on July 18 , 1950. She also served as chief of the children’s clinic and Houston TB Hospital as well as chairman of general medical staff. Robert V. Moise took over as president in 1950 after Dr. Wright’s death.
Emmeline J. Renis joined the Association as a nurse in 1920. She shared the administrative work with Dr. Wright, eventually becoming the executive director. She was the executive director through the 1960s.
Dr. Katharine H. K. Hsu was born and educated in China. She came to the United States in 1948. She joined the Association in 1952 and remained an integral part of the organization through the 1970s. In the early 1960s, Dr. Hsu led one of the largest comparative studies that evaluated the multiple-puncture Heaf test against the more established Mantoux and patch tests. Testing more than 5,000 Houston school children, she confirmed that the Heaf test was reliable and offered improvements in mass-screening. She was an associate in the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine as well as pediatrician-in-charge for the Tuberculosis Children’s Hospital and Clinic for Houston and Harris County.
Other individuals related to the Association are Dr. Howard T. Barkely (Board of Directors), Dr. Daniel E. Jenkins (Board of Directors), and Dr. W. J. Stork (Chief Radiologist).
From the beginning, the Association utilized Christmas Seal sales as its primary source of funding. First used in Denmark in 1904, Christmas Seals were purchased as extra postage for holiday packages, and the proceeds went to hospitals for children. In 1907 the National Anti-Tuberculosis Association began selling Christmas Seals in America as a fundraising campaign to fight tuberculosis. From $263.82 in 1911 to over $150,000 in 1956, the San Jacinto Lung Association funded all of its programs through the annual Christmas Seals campaign.
The following is a list of the different names of the San Jacinto Lung Association through the years: 1911, Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League 1950, Houston-Harris County Tuberculosis Association 1967, San Jacinto Tuberculosis & Respiratory Diseases Association. 1974, San Jacinto Lung Association Currently, National Lung Association Houston
The following community institutions have been affiliated with the Association through its history: Houston Tuberculosis Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Harris County Medical Society, Rusk Settlement House, Community Chest, United Charities, Jefferson Davis Hospital.
Pamphlet, “Unfinished Business: 50th Anniversary of the Houston-Harris County TB Association. MS 009 W. J. Stork, MD papers. McGovern Historical Center.
Organization Records. IC 034 San Jacinto Lung Association. McGovern Historical Center.
Farmer, W. C. “Tuberculosis Pioneers in Texas,” Chest. American College of Chest Physicians, p. 131. http://journal.publications.chestnet.org/data/Journals/CHEST/21104/131.pdf Accessed 9/20/2016