Who was admitted to Pleiestiftelsen Hospital?

Pleiestiftelsen was established as an institution for people with leprosy. The majority were from Western Norway, but there were also patients from Eastern Norway, Northern Norway and even one from Russia. Very few patients were from the city of Bergen. The majority came from the coastal areas north and south of Bergen.

In the first few years after Pleiestiftelsen Hospital opened, the level of occupancy was so high that applicants had to be triaged. Head Physician Løberg writes in a letter to the district medical officers that they would primarily admit people who they were concerned might have children and thus pass on the disease. At that time, most doctors namely believed that the disease was hereditary.

A conflict of interest gradually arose between doctors on the one hand and people living in the districts on the other. The Head Physician wanted to admit those who exhibited early signs of the disease, in the hope of stopping or slowing down its progression. However, local authorities would primarily apply for places for ‘their most helpless’ – those who were severely affected by the disease and who were considered a particular burden for those around them. The sick would not normally apply for a place unless they could no longer support themselves or felt they were a burden on their family.

Head Physician Løberg considered it hugely problematic that most people were only admitted once the disease had progressed too far, making it unlikely that anything could be done to aid any recovery, and even making it difficult to ensure that they had ‘a tolerable existence for the rest of their days’.

It’s unlikely those applying for a place had any hope of recovery. In many cases, consideration for their family was probably what weighed heaviest on them. The financial benefits of admission, for both the family and local community, were obvious, as the state paid the costs instead of the family, or local poor-law authorities having to support the sick.

Towards the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century, more and more people were admitted in the early stages of the disease, partly because there were fewer people with leprosy and more vacant places at the hospitals, while it had also become known that the disease was infectious.

After an Act in 1885 made forced hospital admissions possible, the provision was sometimes used, but not very often. Between 1896 and 1900, two women were admitted to Pleiestiftelsen Hospital against their will. A young man was also brought ashore after taking a job on a ship, despite this being forbidden by the district medical officer. Between 1901 and 1905, two women were admitted by force. One of them, ‘who did not want to be separated from her husband’, was taken from her home to the hospital by the sheriff. Between 1906 and 1910, a former teacher was admitted with police assistance. He had at first moved in voluntarily but then escaped and had to be readmitted by force.

Overview of applicants from Askvoll to the Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Bergen City Archives.
The majority of those affected by leprosy were living in poor conditions in the coastal areas of Western Norway. Askvold was a municipality with many cases. In 1856, it was recorded that 1.21% of the population had leprosy. In the course of just a few years around 1860, many people from this area were given a place in Pleiestiftelsen. Some of them were relatively young. It was often the parish pastor who sent applications, but they were sometimes sent by family members. Almost all of those who applied received a place, but one of them – Pernille Kolbeinsdatter Holevik – did not want to leave her home.
Bergen City Archives.

Overview of applicants from Voss to the Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Bergen City Archives.
In Voss, some applications were sent by the pastor, but most were sent by the district medical officer and the Poor Commissions. If we look at the dates, more time elapsed between applications in Voss than in Askvold, but the names clearly reveal a different factor – entire families were often becoming ill. They lived in cramped conditions and genetic factors also played a role. The surnames Rosdal and Grove each appear three times between 1870 and 1880. Perhaps these were three siblings each applying for a place?
Bergen City Archives.

Application for admission to Pleiestiftelsen. Regional State Archives of Bergen.
This application from the Poor Commission requests places for a husband and wife from Lurø municipality.
The Regional State Archives of Bergen.

Application for admission to Pleiestiftelsen. Regional State Archives of Bergen.
It was often the Poor Commission that sent applications for those receiving financial support, often in cooperation with the district medical officer. Here is an application from the commission in Hyllestad from 1880.
The Regional State Archives of Bergen.

Confirmation of admission to the Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Regional State Archives of Bergen.
The fact that those admitted had modest means is often evident in the written documents they received confirming their place and a deadline for admission. The documents often note if they don’t have the two complete sets of clothing they were obliged to bring with them. We can see here that there were quite a few pieces of clothing Arne Nilsen Spidsøen from Finnås in Moster didn’t have upon arrival. Applications from a pastor or the Poor Commission often contain guarantees that they will have the necessary clothes when admitted.
The Regional State Archives of Bergen.

We gradually see examples of people concerned about the risk of infection. A letter from the district medical officer in Østre Sunnmøre from 1913 requests admission for a 46-year-old man. It states that there is ‘rising discontent about the fact that he – despite numerous prohibitions – is travelling around visiting friends and relatives’.
The Regional State Archives of Bergen.

There are also examples of patients from other institutions applying for transfer to Pleiestiftelsen. This application from 1910 is from a patient in Reitgjerdet Hospital who is discontent and so far from home that he might as well ‘give Pleiestiftelsen a try’.
The Regional State Archives of Bergen.

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