Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women

by Laurie Thompson and Lynn Downey

Arequipa Sanatorium, Fairfax, California. © Lynn Downey

We are honored to host renowned author & historian Lynn Downey at the California Room’s Map & Special Collection Annex on Monday, September 16, 2019 when she will present an in-depth look at life in Arequipa, Marin’s own Lung Resort for Women. Lynn’s presentation, which will begin at 6:30 pm, will be followed by a book-signing.

As San Francisco recovered from the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906, dust and ash filled the city’s stuffy factories, stores and classrooms. Dr. Philip King Brown noticed the rising tuberculosis rates among the women who worked there, and he knew there were few places where they could get affordable treatment.

Arequipa Sanatorium interior. © Lynn Downey

In 1911, with the help of wealthy society women and his wife, Helen, a protégé of philanthropist Phoebe Apperson, Brown opened the Arequipa Sanatorium in Marin County. Together, Brown, and his all-female staff gave new life to hundreds of working-class women suffering from tuberculosis in early twentieth-century California.

Unlike most other medical facilities of the time, Arequipa treated primarily working-class women and provided the same treatment to all, including Asian American and African American women, despite the virulent racism of the time. Lynn Downey’s own grandmother was given a terminal tuberculosis diagnosis in 1927, but after treatment at Arequipa, she lived to be 102 years old.

Arequipa gave female doctors a place to practice, female nurses and social workers a place to train, and white society women a noble philanthropic mission.

Based on sanatorium records that Downey herself helped to preserve and interviews she conducted with former patients and others associated with Arequipa, Downey tells a vivid story of the sanatorium and its cure that Brown and his talented team of Progressive women made available and possible for hundreds of working-class patients.

Lynn Downey is an independent writer, archivist and historian and the author of Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World; A Short History of Sonoma; and Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women.

Originally published at

The official Medium account of the archive of Marin County history & culture at the Marin County Free Library