I found this sign posted in a fairly rural area of Floyd County. It wasn’t in an area where I would imagine that there is a lot of extraneous noise. After spending some time researching, the earliest mention of these signs I can find in a newspaper search is in the early 1920s.
Articles indicate that these signs were mostly used around hospitals, doctor’s offices, and an occasional home. There are even letters to editors admonishing people for not observing the “Quiet Sickness” signs. There are even reports of the signs being stolen off personal property.
In rural areas, these signs would often be in areas of coal mining or rug manufacturers. At one time, health professionals would recommend sleeping on porches to bolster the immunity system. This was recommended generally for anyone, which is why a lot of older homes have sleeping porches, but it was a common recommendation for those suffering from lung issues.
For coal miners, black lung was a serious illness developed from working in the coal mines and breathing in coal dust. People who worked in the rug industry, like areas around Dalton, Georgia, would develop byssinosis, often called cotton worker’s lung or brown lung. These diseases made breathing incredibly difficult so the fresh air could help. Even if people weren’t sleeping on their porches, it did let travelers know that there was someone very ill in the area.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control hosted an exhibition of Earl Dotter’s photographic work. Dotter documents the workers in the mining, farming, textile, construction, and other industries. His large body of work highlights how these people’s work is dangerous and negatively impacts their health. You can buy a book of his photos on Amazon.