New in the collection: tonsillectomy solicitation

Card and letter about tonsillectomy

“Public health officials around a century ago decided that tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy surgery was a fine measure to improve the welfare of American children. The reasoning was that tonsils were a gateway to infection….

“The tonsil push in North Carolina started in earnest in 1917 when George Cooper was appointed director of the State Board of Health’s Bureau of Medical Inspection.

“The Sylva Herald [as turned up by local researcher Nancy Sherrill Wilson] included accounts of 84 children having their tonsils removed in 1944, 50 more in 1945 and a 1947 article recounting that ‘Children who attended the clinics were operated on in the morning and remained overnight, sleeping in the gymnasium of the school on cots, under the care of a night nurse.’

“Debates over the effectiveness of tonsillectomies, reason for conducting them and other approaches saw the practice decline going into the 1950s after peaking at around 1.5 million procedures a year [nationally]. Today tonsillectomies are often used to treat sleep apnea….”

— From “A public health strategy and a forgotten public panic” by Jim Buchanan in the Sylva Herald and Ruralite (Oct. 20, 2021)

Remarkable, isn’t it, that such a once-widespread procedure has virtually disappeared? One Red Springs physician estimated he had performed 17,000 tonsillectomies over his 35-year career.

This letter and card from the State Board of Health were sent to parents in Stokes County in the 1920s.