Carville, The National Leprosarium: Patient Life
Stop 5 of 9 in the Carville: The National Leprosarium tour
In 1940, the patient population was between 400 and 450 and a massive renovation was underway. The improved hospital created individual rooms for 450 patients and the 13” thick concrete walls made the buildings as fireproof as possible. Fire was always a concern.
Here’s a list of what was built in 1940:
• 17 two-story dormitories
• 20,000 square-foot recreation building with library, theater, canteen and ballroom
• Over two miles of two-story corridors that link all patient buildings together
• Facilities' engineering building
• Staff dining hall
• Residence for Daughters of Charity, a Catholic nursing order
All of these improvements cost around 4 million dollars.
To your right, the two-story buildings with the orange metal awnings are female patients’ dorms. The dormitories are arranged in two quadrangles connected via covered corridors. This provided patients, many in wheelchairs, access to all buildings. Creating a fireproof hospital was a major aim of the last renovation, so even the patients’ room furnishings were metal instead of wood.
Every dorm had 30 individual rooms--each with an oscillating fan and radiated heat for winter. Each floor had shared bathrooms and a common parlor. The original design provided men and women with separate dorms. Later on, when patient couples ran away and returned married, they developed a thriving “suburbia” of homemade cottages towards the rear of the facility so that they could live together.
A Carville “date” often involved a hot-plate in the woman’s room, a card table across the threshold with the man sitting in the hall. In the 1960s, one of the dormitories was remodeled into apartments to allow for the cohabitation of couples. Each apartment had a private kitchen and bathroom.
Dormitory #24 was designated the “Carville Mall,” where free enterprise thrived. A patient could open her own shop to provide goods or services to fellow patients.
Some popular patient-run businesses included a radio repair service, a barber shop, a bicycle repair shop, a beauty parlor, a photography shop, and even a dry cleaner's.