Leper. That title has negative connotations as leprosy was thought to be contagious and to have no cure.

In Hawaii, leprosy infected many, especially the Native Hawaiians, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many were quarantined in Kalaupapa, Molokai, never to see their loved ones again.


May 22, 1823: Reverend Charles C. Stewart may have seen leprosy victims in Hawaii, as he wrote, “The inhabitants generally are subject to many disorders of the skin; the majority are more or less disfigured by eruptions and sores, and many are as unsightly as lepers.”

1835: A Hawaiian woman in Koloa, Kauai, Kamuli had symptoms of leprosy, the first documented case of leprosy in Hawaii.

December 13, 1850: King Kamehameha III established the first Board of Health, which aimed to oversee the public health of the people of Hawaii and to cure the people of epidemic diseases, especially cholera.

1860s: Leprosy spread quickly throughout the people in Hawaii, causing alarm and panic. The disease disproportionately affected the Native Hawaiians.

1865: “An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy” was passed and says that land is to be set aside for isolating leprosy victims. The state of Hawaii bought 800 acres of land on Kalaupapa, Molokai, for that purpose.

January 6, 1866: The first group of leprosy victims with 16 people arrived at Kalawao for isolation.

1868: Norwegian scientist Armauer Hansen identified mycobacterium leprae, the causing bacterium of leprosy.

May 10, 1873: A Belgian missionary priest originally named Joseph Damien de Veuster, Father Damien and his bishop arrived at Kalaupapa, where leprosy victims lived in exile. Leading the community, Father Damien built a church and oversaw various improvement projects, including building homes and schools and organizing farms. For the rest of his life, Father Damien encouraged the community to follow basic laws; constructed buildings, coffins, and a water system; planted trees; encouraged the government to provide more for the leprosy victims; and boosted people’s morale. Father Damien’s selflessness made him famous internationally.

September 15, 1881: Queen Liliuokalani visited the settlement. She honored Father Damien with the Cross of the Royal Order of Kalakaua to recognize his “efforts in alleviating the distress and mitigating the sorrows of the unfortunate.”

1885: Kapiolani Home for Girls opened to house daughters of leprosy victims.

1886: Sent by the Board of Health to Kalaupapa, Dr. Masanao Goto tried to treat leprosy with medicines and hot baths.

April 15, 1889: Father Damien passed away at age 49 from the leprosy contracted from his 16 years on Molokai.

1907: Jack London visited the leprosy settlement and wrote a candid account.image_681x648_from_441,4339_to_2112,5930

1946: Leprosy patients in Hawaii received sulfone drugs, which put the leprosy into remission and not be contagious.

1969: The Hawaii Board of Health stopped isolating leprosy victims and ended the isolation laws. From 1866 to 1969, the Kalaupapa settlement received a total of about 8,000 people.

2009: The Catholic Church canonized Father Damien as a saint, naming him Saint Damien of Molokai.

Suggested Search Terms

1. Enter “leprosy” and “kalaupapa” in the field “with all the words”

2. Enter “leprosy” and “hawaii” in the field “with all the words”

3. Enter “leper” and “hawaii” in the field “with all the words”

4. Enter “father damien” in the field “with the phrase”

5. Select “Hawaii” in the “Select state(s)” field and enter “leper” in the field “with any of the words”

Articles From Chronicling America

“Kapiolani Home: Formal Dedication of the Building by Her Majesty the Queen”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, November 10, 1885, Image 2

“Father Damien: The Leper Priest Passes to His Long Rest”
The Daily bulletin, April 20, 1889, Image 2

“Father Damien Dead: The Famous Leper Priest Goes to His Long Home–Sketch of His Life by Charles Warren Stoddard”
The Hawaiian gazette., April 23, 1889, Page 7

“The Late Father Damien”
The Daily bulletin, April 29, 1889, Image 3

“Killed By A Leper”
The Hawaiian gazette, July 4, 1893, Image 11

“Hanalei Lepers”
The Hawaiian gazette, September 26, 1893, Image 11

Leprosy in the Kanaka Settlement
The Salt Lake herald, June 20, 1896, Image 1, 3

“The Passing of a Splendid Race”
The San Francisco call, August 16, 1896, Image 24

“No More Lepers Wanted”
The Hawaiian gazette, 1865-1918, December 31, 1901, Image 2

“Health Board and Legislators”
The Hawaiian gazette, March 22, 1901, Image 8

“Answers the Prayers of the Suffering Lepers”
The Honolulu republican, March 5, 1901, Image 1, 4

“Legislators Are Told of Wants of Unfortunates”
The Hawaiian gazette, April 7, 1903, Image 6

“Bounded her Wounded Wrist to a Leper that She Might Be Exiled with her Husband.”
Seattle star, June 2, 1904, Page 5

“Folk-lore Tales of Old Hawaii” (Manoa Valley, Pele, Kahuna, Leprosy Patients in Hawaii)
The Salt Lake herald, June 11, 1905, Page 3

“Lepers of Molokai”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, January 4, 1908, Page 5

“Robbin Island Leper Inquires about Molokai”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, November 17, 1908, Page 2

“Leprosy Question Already Threatens”
Evening bulletin, February 20, 1909, Image 12

Washington Beau Brummel Who Turned Monk Spent 36 Years Among Lepers of Molokai
The evening world, June 28, 1922, Page 20


6 Comments on “Leprosy”

  1. […] 1865, the Kingdom of Hawaii quarantined leprosy victims at Kalaupapa, exiling them from their loved ones for life. Since landing on Kalaupapa’s shore in 1873 until […]

  2. […] Today in history — May 10, 1873 — the Hawaiian Kingdom exiled leprosy victims, mostly Native Hawaiians, to Kalaupapa, Molokai, so Father Damien and his bishop went there to help them rebuild their lives. Read more about it in “leprosy.” […]

  3. […] your spouse were to face exile due to leprosy, would you catch it so you could go with him or […]

  4. […] In the past five years, Father Damien and Marianne Cope became Hawaii’s first two Catholic saints. Brother Joseph Dutton could become the third. Like them, he spent the rest of his life, forty-two years, helping exiled leprosy victims in Kalaupapa, Molokai. […]

  5. […] the next fifty-three years, this charity would help daughters of leprosy […]

  6. […] Read more about it in Hawaii in “Leprosy.” […]

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