International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Betty Martin

    Status Other
    Country USA


    Betty Martin (1909-2002) was an American woman affected by leprosy who spent years living at the Carville leprosarium. Her autobiography, Miracle at Carville, was published in 1950.

    Martin was born into a family prominent in New Orleans society; in order to protect her family from the stigma associated with leprosy, she chose never to reveal her real name. She was diagnosed with leprosy at the age of nineteen, in December 1927, and arrived at Carville in January 1928, taking the name Betty Parker.

    Martin fell in love with another Carville patient, Harry Martin. The couple lived together, but were not able to legally marry inside Carville; they had also lost faith in the effectiveness of the medical treatments they were given, and this led to their decision to escape. They cut a hole in the barbed-wire fence at night, and were met by their fathers in a car on the other side. They married and lived in the outside world for five and a half years, but returned to Carville in 1939 for treatment when Harry Martin’s condition worsened. They were each punished with a month’s detention for escaping, and were subsequently forbidden to live together.

    The Martins were among the first to receive treatment with promin, and were discharged from Carville in the late 1940s. Martin’s 1950 memoir, Miracle at Carville, became a bestseller and was translated into multiple languages. A second book, No One Must Ever Know, was published in 1959; it focuses on the Martins’ life together after their release from Carville in the 1940s, and their efforts to make sure their secret was not discovered.

    In the following years, the Martins lived in California. Betty returned to Carville for further treatment on one occasion, when she experienced a recurrence of leprosy. She and her husband returned permanently in 1989, as free care continued to be provided for former patients.

    Upon Martin’s death in June 2002, her family ensured that her real name remained secret. No mention of Carville was made at her funeral.


    Gaudet, Marcia. Carville: Remembering Leprosy in America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

    Squires, Sally. "'We Have Suffered Too Long.' (Betty Martin, 89; Leprosy Patient's Story)." The Washington Post, sec. 120: A18. 1997. Web.

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