Little Red, then and now

As the Trudeau Institute makes preparations to mark the 130th anniversary of its founding in 1884 by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, plans are underway to raise a preservation fund for Little Red, the beloved little “cure cottage,” which also turns 130 in 2014.

According to local historian Mary B. Hotaling, former executive director of Historic Saranac Lake, Little Red’s small scale had several advantages over larger structures, including improved ventilation and sanitation. Dr. Trudeau also noted that donors preferred funding an entire small structure rather than part of a large institution.

The cost of constructing the cottage, $350, was donated by a “a Mrs. Jenks, a lady in Philadelphia,” at the behest of Charles Matthew Lea, one of Dr. Trudeau’s close personal friends and one of the original trustees of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium, the precursor to today’s Trudeau Institute.

Mr. Lea inherited his fortune from the family firm, Lea & Febiger, the oldest publishing company in the United States at the time of its sale in 1990. The firm’s best-known title was the U.S. edition of “Gray’s Anatomy,” which it began publishing in 1859.

Mr. Lea’s first wife, the former Helen Vaughan Cope, had been a very early patient of Dr. Trudeau, and the Lea and Trudeau families formed close personal bonds over the years of Mrs. Lea’s care. Dr. Trudeau wrote fondly in his autobiography of Mr. Lea:

“He and I had many interests in common, especially medicine and hunting; he knew all about doctors and medical books, and was the only man with whom I could discuss medical subjects.

“On the other hand it was no doubt a comfort to him to leave Mrs. Lea with such friends during her enforced absence. A strong friendship grew up between us – the kind of friendship that is one of the best things in life, and that neither time nor space nor prolonged separation can obliterate; a friendship which continues as warm today as it was thirty-five years ago.

“Mr. Lea was one of the four original trustees of the Sanitarium, and he and I are the only ones now living. From the first he encouraged me and helped me to carry out my plan, which then seemed quixotic enough to almost everybody else.”

In 1884, in the early years of their friendship, Mr. Lea had an English translation of Robert Koch’s paper, “The Etiology of Tuberculosis,” prepared as a Christmas gift for Dr. Trudeau, who would go on to famously replicate and extend Dr. Koch’s work.

And it was Mr. Lea’s firm that published the first edition of Dr. Trudeau’s “An Autobiography” in 1915. (Coincidentally, Mr. Lea retired from the family firm that same year.)

Helen Carnan Jenks (nee Helen Carnan Towne), Little Red’s original patron, was the widow of a promising obstetrician and gynecologist, William Furness Jenks, who had succumbed to tuberculosis in 1881 at age 39. A graduate of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Medicine, Dr. Jenks had served as editor of the American supplement to the Obstetrical Journal of Great Britain and Ireland (also published by Mr. Lea) before illness forced him to abandon his career.

Mrs. Jenks was also the daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most distinguished citizens, John Henry Towne, whose bequest of half a million dollars had led to the establishment of the University of Pennsylvania’s Towne Scientific School, now part of the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, in 1875.

Like her father, Mrs. Jenks was active in several charitable causes, and she was a well-known health crusader at the end of the 19th century. Having learned about England’s district nurses service from a friend, she founded the Visiting Nurse Society of Philadelphia in 1886, enlisting the assistance of physicians who gave the fledgling organization needed credibility within the medical community. The organization, which served more than 300 patients by the end of its first year, still exists today as the Visiting Nurses Association of Greater Philadelphia.

For many years, Little Red was also routinely referred to as the Jenks Cottage in recognition of the generosity of Mrs. Jenks.

In his autobiography, Dr. Trudeau also cites Charles Lea as treasurer of the Free Bed Fund, which had been established in 1888 at the sanitarium for “specially urgent cases.” According to Dr. Trudeau, Mr. Lea, “his mother and his sister have taken a special interest in its work and contributed freely each year to its support.”

Following the death of his wife in 1886, Mr. Lea married again in 1895. In 1913 he built a 25-room mansion in Devon, Pa., for his family, which included a daughter from each of his marriages. The original 20-acre tract was expanded in 1920, with the purchase of an additional 83 acres and became known as Westhorpe Farm. Mr. Lea, who would go on to become a well-known connoisseur and collector of fine art, died there in 1927.

Although it appears he no longer traveled to the Adirondacks after Dr. Trudeau’s death, Mr. Lea’s long relationship with the “beloved physician” was profoundly impactful – supporting Dr. Trudeau in his early TB studies, serving on the original sanitarium’s board, helping to fundraise for both the first cure cottage and the sanitarium’s most vulnerable patients, and publishing Dr. Trudeau’s memoirs posthumously.

As the North Country commemorates in 2014 the Trudeau Institute’s founding 130 years ago, and with the 100th anniversary of Dr. Trudeau’s death also fast approaching, it is good to remember the vital role of private philanthropy in the region’s rich history of patient care and groundbreaking medical research.

In that same spirit, current Trudeau Institute employees are planning a silent art auction to benefit Little Red, with submissions from employees and their children. The cottage, which received a new coat of paint last summer, is now getting a new roof, and the hope is to raise funds for her continued care and preservation. For more information about supporting the fund, please contact Kim Godreau at or 518-891-3080, ext. 561.

Historic Saranac Lake, operating from Dr. Trudeau’s original lab on Church Street as a museum commemorating his work and Saranac Lake’s unique history as a pioneer health resort, offers tours of Little Red on the fourth Wednesday of each month, June through September. For further details, contact Historic Saranac Lake at 518-891-4606.

Patricia Gilford of Media, Pa., is a consultant to Trudeau Institute who assists in writing its press releases.

The Trudeau Institute is a nonprofit biomedical research center founded in 1884 by Dr. E.L. Trudeau. The institute’s fundamental research on immunity fosters the development of vaccines, treatments and cures for many life-threatening diseases, including cancer, tuberculosis and influenza. The institute is supported by federal and state grants and contributions from individuals, private foundations and corporations. For further information about the Trudeau Institute, go to