Scientific article

The leprosy asylum in India: 1886-1947

Published inJournal of the history of medicine and allied sciences, vol. 64, no. 4, p. 474-517
Publication date2009

Writing against a historical practice that situates the leprosy asylum exclusively within prison-like institutions, this article seeks to show the variation in leprosy asylums, the contingencies of their evolution, and the complexity of their designs, by devoting attention to the characteristics of the leprosy asylum in India from 1886 to 1947, in particular to the model agricultural colony. Drawing upon the travel narratives of Wellesley Bailey, the founder of the Mission to Lepers in India, for three separate periods in 1886, 1890-91, and 1895-96, it argues that leprosy asylums were formed in response to a complex conjunction of impulses: missionary, medical, and political. At the center of these endeavors was the provision of shelter for persons with leprosy that accorded with principles of good stewardship and took the form of judicious use of donations provided by benefactors. As the Mission to Lepers began to bring about improvements and restructuring to asylums, pleasant surroundings, shady trees, sound accommodation, and good ventilation became desirable conditions that would confer physical and psychological benefits on those living there. At the same time, the architecture of the asylum responded to economic imperatives, in addition to religious and medical aspirations, and asylums moved towards the regeneration of a labor force. Leprosy-affected people were increasingly employed in occupations that contributed to their sustenance and self-sufficiency, symbolically reincorporating the body damaged by leprosy into the economic world of productive relations.

  • Agriculture/history
  • Environment Design
  • Facility Design and Construction/history
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • India
  • Leper Colonies/history/organization & administration
  • Leprosy/history/rehabilitation
  • Missions and Missionaries/history
  • Occupations/history
Citation (ISO format)
ROBERTSON, Josephine. The leprosy asylum in India: 1886-1947. In: Journal of the history of medicine and allied sciences, 2009, vol. 64, n° 4, p. 474–517. doi: 10.1093/jhmas/jrp014
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0022-5045

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