For much of the 20th century, people diagnosed with disease of leprosy were sent to Carville, Louisiana, a federal treatment center along the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge. Anne Harmon Brett, whose family was affected by the disease, describes Carville as a place where patients were forced to live in isolation, and they were not allowed to date or even marry each other.
In her book titled “The Disease: One Man’s Journey Through a Life with Leprosy“, Brett explains how her parents, Johnny and Anne Harmon, met and married while living at Carville. Despite being cured of the disease, the Harmon family was never able to live together again due to the fear of transmitting the disease to their two children.
living with the disease at carville
In her father’s memoir, Johnny Harmon wrote about the special community that developed among the patients at Carville. Brett describes it as a “country club where the dues were really high.” Everyone had a cross to bear, with some crosses being bigger than others. For her father, his cross was leprosy. Despite the stigma attached to the disease, the patients at Carville developed a camaraderie that helped them cope with the challenges of living with the disease.
a carville’s family story featured on tv
a visit to carville today
Although Carville is no longer a federal treatment center, the National Hansen’s Disease Museum allows visitors to learn about the history of the disease and its treatment. The pioneering treatments developed at Carville have produced a cure for the disease, and victims are no longer forced to live in isolation. However, there are still about 200 diagnosed cases of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, each year in the United States.
In explaining the title of her book, “The Disease,” Brett says that her family never used the word leprosy or leper in their home because of the stigma attached to the disease. Instead, they always referred to it as “the disease.” Today, the National Hansen’s Disease Museum at Carville serves as a reminder of the stigma and isolation that people with Hansen’s disease faced in the past, as well as the progress that has been made in treating the disease.
a life with the disease at carville
I met Simeon Peterson in the spring of 2012. He arrived at Carville from the Virgin Islands in 1951. After his cure, he and other patients were able to continue living in the dormitories they had called home most of their lives. Mr. Pete became known as “The Ambassador of Carville” leading tours through the museum and educating visitors about leprosy and life at Carville. He died in 2017 at the age of 89.
watch mr. Pete’s story of life at carville
A visit to the National Hansen’s Disease Museum at Carville is an opportunity to learn about this history and to appreciate the progress that has been made in treating and curing Hansen’s disease. The Museum is located at 5445 Point Clair Road in Carville, LA, and is open Wednesday through Friday from 10am-4pm.