In January 1921, Sawyer met with Dr. Victor Heiser, the director of RF operations in the East. Heiser asked him to come along
on a three-month tour of the RF public health sites in southeast Asia, and Sawyer agreed, though it meant missing the birth
of his son (who arrived on March 23). His letters home describe in detail the rigors of traveling and his reactions to other
cultures, as well as the activities of the hookworm control campaigns.
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1921-02-09 (February 9, 1921)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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From Hookworm to Yellow Fever: Rockefeller Foundation, 1919-1927
The ship will arrive in Thursday Island in the morning, and then I shall have a chance to mail a letter to you. So I am in
the cabin clicking away with Dr. Heiser's typewriter while the passengers are having a concert in the dining saloon.
It seems that the customs regarding sports and entertainment are very much the same on all ships, but the ever present sweep
has not yet appeared on this boat.
We had a whole day and an evening in Townsville, and it gave us time to call on the Breinl's and to see quite a bit of
Dr. Willis. It was very warm and humid at Townsville, but the inhabitants seem to feel they prefer the climate to that of
Brisbane, which is fortunate.
Mrs. Breinl and the twins look well, and the Doctor seems to have made a very successful start in practice. The other Doctors
are not treating him right, but he is taking in the cash. We expected to get some news about the Ministry of Health, but
the only News item which had reached Townsville told us nothing new or definite.
We have had a wonderfully smooth voyage, and you would hardly know you were on a ship if it were not for the slight vibration
of the engines. We spend our days playing deck games,--quoits singles, quoits doubles, and more quoits. I have also played
chess with Dr. Heiser, and I have actually beaten him a couple of times in a considerable series of games.
I have seen many reefs today. In these waters around northern York Peninsula there seem to be no end of reefs and low-lying
The laundry problem has been lightened by the fact that you can get laundry done on the ship at very reasonable prices. That
is just one of the advantages that come from traveling on a ship that carries an Oriental crew and stewards of the same hue.
Last evening we had a book evening, or something similar. Everyone was supposed to wear something expressing the name of
the book. Enclosed is what I wore. Can you read it? Most of the books represented I had never heard of, and many of the
other people seemed equally in the dark. Dr. Heiser and I have not yet appeared in our dinner coats, although the most of
the passengers started dressing for dinner after we had left Townsville. Apparently representing the Rockefeller Foundation
is not so serious after all as far as dress is concerned. I have been duly warned that I shall have to wear a cut-away and
silk hat if we are given an audience by the king of Siam. Imagine me in such a rig-out!
I hope that the hot weather we met in Townsville did not extend down to Brisbane. I realize that we cannot get any news from
you at Thursday Island as we are carrying the mail on this ship, but I wish I could hear from you just the same.
Thoughts on the naming of girls seem to be exhausted, and I cant think of any to suggest to-night. Under the circumstances
I see no way out except to have it a boy.
Nelson, the uncrowned king of Darwin, beat Dr. Heiser at deck quoits to-day in the tournament.
Give my love to Peggy and Gertrude and Ruthie. I hope they are having lots of fun and are helping their mother all they can.
And as for you, Dearest, I love you just the same as ever and miss you.