Contemplating Starlight from the Comfort of Your Bed

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

For many centuries, people believed that disease came from dangerous, miasmic night air—the word “malaria” literally means “bad air.” But with the discoveries of true disease causes (malarial mosquitoes, tubercular and other bacteria), people began seeing exposure to fresh air as beneficial rather than detrimental. By the late 19th century, doctors recommended that their patients sleep exposed to the outdoors.1,2

The pamphlet The Starnook: A Call to the Open, published by the Starnook Company circa 1910, answers this call for fresh air by supplying a product. The Starnook could be attached to any exterior building wall to create a ventilated sleeping space, big enough for a single or double bed. Its metal shutter walls could open or shut depending on the weather, as could two sections of its wood slat floors. It offered a “balanced removable roof” that could be raised or lowered through a pulley system, allowing customers to experience “the contemplation of starlit space.”3

Left: The inside of the Starnook with shutters and roof closed. Right: The Starnook seen from outside, with roof open. Images on pages 6 and 7 of The Starnok. Click to enlarge.

Left: The inside of the Starnook with shutters and roof closed. Right: The Starnook seen from outside, with roof open. Images on pages 6 and 7 of The Starnook: A Call to the Open. Click to enlarge.

The company wrote:

“He who sleeps out of doors is supplied with an abundance of oxygen-laden air, Nature’s own restorative for tired nerves. This abundance of pure air, which mankind so vitally needs for perfect health, can be secured by the majority of people in no other way with so little exertion as by sleeping in the open.”

The Starnook had applications for both the healthy and the sick. In the early 20th century, exposure to fresh air was seen as key to treating tuberculosis, then a leading cause of death in America.2 The Starnook served as an alternative to traveling to a sanatorium for treatment.

In publications like John Hopkins Hospital Bulletin,4 The New York Medical Journal,5 and the book Tuberculosis as a Disease of the Masses and How to Combat It,6 Dr. S. Adolphus Knopf, a noted and pioneering tuberculosis researcher,7 sang the Starnook’s praises:

“In presenting this new device to the profession and the public, the inventors trust to have been in a measure helpful not only in solving the problem of outdoor sleeping and outdoor resting for the tuberculous in cities, but also to have given opportunity to other sufferers to recuperate, and to the well and strong to enjoy constant fresh air, at least at night, and enable them to be more frequently in touch with nature than is granted to most city dwellers.”4

Dr. Knopf turned himself into the Starnook’s leading spokesperson. He had one installed at his home, presumably in New York City:

“I have slept in my starnook since October, 1910, and never have I had more peaceful nights, more sound and more refreshing sleep. To lie outstretched in the warm bed, breathing constantly the pure, fresh air, to be able to gaze at the beautiful sky, and watch the starry constellations without any effort, is a sensation which must be felt, for it cannot be described. I am inclined to believe that the most restless and nervous person will soon fall asleep in a quiet starnook.”4

Dr. Knopf's open Starnook.

Dr. Knopf’s open Starnook. In: Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin 1911;22(246), page 302. Click to enlarge.

Enjoy the pamphlet in full, below. Perhaps you will become as strong an admirer of the Starnook as Dr. Knopf.

Click an image to view the gallery:

References

1. Hailey C. From Sleeping Porch to Sleeping Machine: Inverting Traditions of Fresh Air in North America. Tradit Settlements Dwellings Rev. 2009;20(9):27–44. Available at: http://iaste.berkeley.edu/pdfs/20.2d-Spr09hailey-sml.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2015.

2. National Library of Medicine. Visual Culture and Public Health Posters – Infectious Disease – Tuberculosis. 2011. Available at: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/visualculture/tuberculosis.html. Accessed December 22, 2015.

3. A call to the open sleep under the stars: a delightful health-giving experience to be gained by the use of the Starnook, an attractive open-air bedroom attachable outside any window for use every night in the year. Syracuse: The Starnook Company; 1910. Note that this is the title page title. For the sake of brevity, the cover title is used throughout the text.

4. Knopf SA. The Starnook – a new device for the rest cure in the open air and for outdoor sleeping. Johns Hopkins Hosp Bull. 1911;22(246):301–303. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=XcwyAQAAMAAJ&pgis=1. Accessed December 17, 2015.

5. Knopf SA. The Starnook and the window tent; two devices for the rest cure in the open air and for outdoor sleeping. New York Med J. 1911;93(16):761–765. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=Z3Y4AQAAMAAJ&pgis=1. Accessed December 22, 2015.

6. Knopf SA. Tuberculosis as a disease of the masses and how to combat it. 7th ed. New York: The Survey; 1911. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=5VE5AQAAMAAJ&pgis=1. Accessed December 22, 2015.

7. Reyes A. Finding Aid to the Sigard Adolphus Knopf Papers, 1879-1940. 2004. Available at: http://oculus.nlm.nih.gov/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=nlmfindaid;idno=knopf;view=reslist;didno=knopf;subview=standard;focusrgn=bioghist;cc=nlmfindaid;byte=19744711. Accessed December 22, 2015.

Tuning in to Tuberculosis

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

WNYC-LogoTo mark World TB Day, we are going to tune in to the 1950s radio series “For Doctors Only.” Selections from this series and several others produced by The New York Academy of Medicine and WNYC were recently digitized and cataloged by the Academy and the New York Public Radio (NYPR) Archives.

The program “The Biological and Social Aspects of Tuberculosis” was the 26th Hermann M. Biggs Memorial Lecture, held at the Academy in 1951.The lecture was given by Pulitzer Prize-winning author René Jules Dubos in honor of physician and public health champion Hermann Biggs and his contribution to the control and elimination of tuberculosis (TB).

At the beginning of his career, Dubos focused on developing antibiotics. But after his first wife, Marie-Louise, died of pulmonary TB in 1942, he changed the focus of his research. His lab determined a way to more quickly culture strains of tubercle bacilli, which led to a better understanding of their virulence and properties. In 1946, he married Jean Porter, who worked alongside him in his lab. Dubos likely based his lecture on the research he did for his book The White Plague, which he published with his wife in 1952.1

Oil portrait of Hermann M. Biggs by Renwick, held in our Oil Portrait Collection.

Oil portrait of Hermann M. Biggs by Renwick, held in our Oil Portrait Collection.

In the lecture, Dubos discussed Biggs’ contribution to tuberculosis prevention in the 1900s. Biggs graduated from Cornell in 1881. In his dissertation, “he expressed his conviction that filth and poor hygiene were the primary causes of contagious disease and microorganisms were only byproducts of disease.”2

Dubos pointed out in his lecture that when Robert Koch discovered the Tubercle bacillus in 1882, it revolutionized the perception of TB. It was no longer a social disease but a biological one. The bacteriological era had begun!

Biggs was quick to realize the profound effect of this germ theory. He formulated a practical way to control TB, shifting the emphasis from patients passively taking physicians’ orders to actively participating in the eradication of the disease as a community through the following formula:

  1. Check the spread of the infection and minimize contacts
  2. Help humans develop higher resistance
  3. Educate to mobilize the community to take action

His TB-control formula began the anti-tuberculosis movement, which eventually led to the formation of the National Tuberculosis Association in 1905.3

In 1889 Biggs and his colleagues “presented to the Health Department of New York City a communication calling attention to the communicability of tuberculosis and recommending that measures be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.” As a result, the Health Department published and distributed a leaflet in large quantities. As noted in A History of the National Tuberculosis Association, “So far as we are able to ascertain, this is the first leaflet ever published for distribution among the general public. It is certainly the first one published and distributed by a health department, and as such marks an epoch in tuberculosis education.”4

The Health Department leaflet, reprinted in Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.

The Health Department leaflet, reprinted in Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.

Over the years, public-health measures helped reduce the spread of TB. Despite these efforts, the population was still susceptible to infection. Mortality rates had been falling faster than infection rates, which Dubos noted in The White Plague. He also showed a connection between industrialization and reduced mortality.

In Dubos, RJ, Dubos J. The white plague: Tuberculosis, man, and society. New Brunswick : Rutgers University Press; 1987.

In Dubos, RJ, Dubos J. The white plague: Tuberculosis, man, and society. New Brunswick : Rutgers University Press; 1987.

Complete eradication of the disease was almost impossible. Instead, Dubos suggested two ways to attack the progression of the disease: 1) decreasing risk of infection and 2) boosting resistance. To do this, thought Dubos, researchers must focus on fostering new and unorthodox ways to determine resistance to infection and adventure into unexplored fields.

Dubos stressed in his lecture that it was imperative to investigate the human and environmental factors that determine resistance to infection. But according to the Global Tuberculosis Report 2014, “tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the world’s deadliest communicable diseases. In 2013, an estimated 9.0 million people developed TB and 1.5 million died from the disease.” Today, efforts to prevent and control TB infection are similar to those championed by Biggs and Dubos: drug-resistant surveillance, community-based TB activities, and collaboration across sectors in research and policy-making.

References

1. Hirsch JG, Moberg CL. Rene Jules Dubos 1901-1982. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences; 1989. Available at: http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/dubos-rene.pdf. Accessed March 20, 2015.

2. Dubos RJ, WNYC (Radio station : New York NY). Biological and Social Aspects of Tuberculosis. New York : WNYC; 1951. http://www.wnyc.org/story/biological-and-social-aspects-of-tuberculosis-26th-hermann-m-biggs-memorial-lecture.

3. Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.

4. Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.