Two Women with Leprosy (St. Thomas?)

Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

The two women in this photograph are suffering from leprosy, a disease that had been present in the Virgin Islands since at least 1841 (though it likely appeared during the slave trade), especially in St. Croix and St. Thomas. Looking closely at the photograph, one can see that the disease has affected the hands of both women, as well as their faces. A leprosarium was first opened in the Virgin Islands in 1888, with an improved facility built in 1910. Incidences of the disease were still prevalent on the islands in the 1920s, though they were declining. The Red Cross was active in helping to treat leprosy throughout the world, and Colcord’s photograph both highlights the effects of the disease, as well as the inherent dignity of these women who were suffering its ravages, often in isolation.