William G. Weidemann

The strange case of Anne Manthei

1923 photograph of long-term fever sufferer Anne Manthie of Milwaukee, depicted smiling slightly, with her head bandaged, and propped up in bed.
Anne Manthei of Milwaukee, shown in a 1923 photograph, suffered an illness that baffled medical science. Collection of Carl Swanson

In 1912, when Anne Manthei turned twenty, she was struck down by illness. Nine surgical procedures followed. Several of the operations were major, including the removal of a kidney. For the next nine years she was constantly under medical care and unable to work. In 1921, her condition worsened dramatically. Her remaining kidney became infected and her temperature soared to 110 degrees.

A fever of 106 degrees or higher is a medical emergency. Left untreated, death is likely and often within hours.

But Anne beat the odds. In October 1922, when her story was featured in the Milwaukee Journal, she had been living with a 110-degree fever for an astounding sixteen months.

The newspaper reported, “Skeptical physicians, refusing to believe it is possible for a human being to live more than a few hours with a fever so violent, have visited her at her home. They have applied every test, using their own thermometers, tested instruments, and invariably they leave mystified by the strange case.”

Medical thermometers of the day had a maximum reading of 110 degrees. In Anne’s case, the mercury frequently passed the 110 mark and continued rising until stopped by the end of the instrument. The doctors who examined her, including one from the Mayo Clinic, concluded Anne’s actual temperature usually hovered around 112 degrees and often reached 114.

Confined to her bed, suffering constant pain and burning fever, Anne was unable to take a sip of water or a bite of solid food for more than a year. She was kept alive by intravenous fluids and liquid nutrients administered by her physician, Dr. William G. Weidemann, who visited at least twice daily and sometimes as many as four times a day for a total of 1,700 house calls in sixteen months.

Wrapped in icepacks, she talked “freely and cheerfully” with the Journal reporter. There was one thing she wanted to see in the article.

“If you print details of my case in the papers,” she said, “I want everyone to know what that doctor has done for me.”

“He has for sixteen months kept me alive.”

Other than her moment in the limelight, little is known of Anne Manthei. Perhaps her health improved a little for she lived another 22 years. The woman who, in the midst of extreme suffering, was able to smile and carry on a pleasant conversation with a visitor died in 1944 at the age of 52.