Penikese Island State Leper Colony

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Penikese Island State Leper Colony
Construction Began 1905
Closed 1920
Location Boston, MA
Alternate Names


Hansen's Disease, commonly referred to as leprosy, became a matter of public concern in the Commonwealth during the mid to late 19th century during a wave of immigration that brought people to Boston harbor from as far away as Polynesia. The disfigurement commonly associated with Hansen's disease has been a major source of fear and prejudice notwithstanding the natural immunity enjoyed by the vast majority of the population and the relative difficulty of transference. The Massachusetts State Board of Charity was the first agency in the Commonwealth explicitly tasked with the care of persons suffering from Hansen's Disease. An initial attempt to consolidate care at the State Infirmary in Tewksbury was blocked by the infirmay's administrators. As a result the Board began to look for a location for the establishment of an independent colony. In 1905, Penikese Island, located seven miles from the nearest coast in Buzzards Bay, was purchased in accordance with St 1905 c 474. Construction of four cottages, a central administration building and laundry were commenced immediately. In 1919, oversight of the Hospital was taken over by the newly formed Department of Public Health. The Hospital was closed in 1920 when the federal government assumed the responsibility of caring of people with Hansen's disease. The National Leprosarium at Carville Louisiana was opened two years later.