Thursday, March 8, 2018


Ipao Leper Colony

"Leper" and "leprosy" are the traditional words for a disease which in the last 100 year or so has also become known as Hansen's Disease, after a Norwegian physician who studied the disease. Some find the older terms offensive, so I have put "leper" in quotation marks in the title of this post.

Secondly, many other skin conditions and diseases have been misidentified in the past as leprosy, and this certainly did happen in the Marianas in the past. At times, people just assumed a disease was leprosy, or classified all skin diseases or ulcers as "leprosy," even when they were not, so I put "leper" in quotation marks for that reason as well.

Since the disease can be spread person to person, isolation was a key method of handling cases of leprosy. The Spaniards did this by opening leper colonies or residences in various place, such as Pågo, Adilok (Adelup) and Asan Point.

A Leper Colony used to front this beach at Ipao

When the Spanish Government on Guam came to an end in 1898, the leprosy patients were let loose and returned to live with their families or on their own. In the first year of American "rule," there was no clear and stable American government to decide what to do with these lepers. That wouldn't happen until the second American Naval Governor arrived.

In the meantime, a passing American Naval officer recommended that these lepers, living among the general population, be sent to Molokai, where a famous leper colony was run and attended to at one time by Saint Damien. It never happened.

As often happened in the past, and as would be repeated in the future, some families were horrified at the thought of losing their family member sick with leprosy. So many of them hid them inside their homes, rather than let them be discovered and taken away.


But the second American Naval Governor of Guam, Seaton Schroeder, resolved to open up yet another leper colony on the island, this time at a new location. Again, the idea was to stop the spread of the disease by separating those with leprosy from everybody else. Early in 1902, the government had discovered four individuals with leprosy. Schroeder ordered a thorough search of the island, as families tended to hide their relatives struck with the disease. That search revealed several more cases. That's when Schroeder decided to open a new leper colony.

The old leper facility at Asan Point had been destroyed and the site was used for the Filipino political prisoners, such as Mabini. So, a new site for a leper colony had to be found. Ipao Beach in Tomhom (Tumon) was selected. Thirty acres (some accounts say 29) were required and funds from Washington DC were requested to pay back the original landowners. Schroeder sought, and obtained, the support of Padre Palomo. Schroeder was hoping Palomo could find Catholic sister nurses to come to Guam and attend to the lepers. This never came about.

By the summer of 1902, news reports around the US were talking about the new leper colony at Ipao. The first houses were of thatched roof. On the premises were a hospital, a mess hall, kitchen chapel. There was a residence for the superintendent and two watchmen.

Site of the Leper Colony

A 1905 newspaper article describes the Ipao Leper Colony as looking like a typical Chamorro village, only cleaner! That year, there were 24 leprosy patients at Ipao.

Leprosy Patients at Ipao


In 1912, the Naval Government decided to move the leprosy patients at Ipao to Culion, an island in the Philippines which was the location of a large leprosarium, or hospital for lepers.

The leper colony at Ipao was not dismantled immediately. It was used again briefly in the 1920s for new cases of leprosy, and the facility was used also for female and juvenile offenders for a time before the war. But after the war there was no trace left of the leper colony. The disease had all but disappeared on Guam by then.

Location of the Ipao Leper Colony on today's map

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