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Leprosy in Montana: The Story of Orville Willet

with Ellen Baumler

author and interpretive historian, Montana Historical Society

After serving a second term in the Montana legislature in 1917, Senator Orville Willett of Mineral County was diagnosed with leprosy. Baumler traces the story of Willett’s 10-year quarantine in Montana, his reliance on faith healing, the legislation his illness prompted, and his eventual removal to the federal leprosarium at Carville, Louisiana. Willett’s experience provides the framework to educate the audience about Hansen’s disease and its medical peculiarities, recent discoveries and treatments, and the social stigma it still carries today. Baumler’s storytelling skills bring Willett’s poignant isolation and the history of this little understood disease to the modern audience.