Quarantine! : East European Jewish immigrants and the New York City epidemics of 1892 / Howard Markel.

Markel, Howard [Browse]
Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
xvi, 262 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.


Summary note
  • In 1892, a record-breaking year for immigration to the United States, New York City was struck by two devastating epidemics: typhus fever and cholera. The typhus epidemic was traced to one particular boat carrying East European Jews, but the cholera epidemic was more widespread, prompting President Benjamin Harrison to temporarily halt immigration.
  • In response, local and national health authorities specifically targeted the immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe, ordering them removed not only from incoming ships but also from their new homes in New York and dispatching them to nearby quarantine islands where "coffin corner" awaited those who succumbed.
  • In Quarantine! Howard Markel traces the course of these two epidemics, day by day, from the point of view of those involved - the public health doctors who diagnosed and treated the victims, the newspaper reporters who covered the stories, the government officials who established and enforced policy, and, most importantly, the immigrants themselves.
  • Drawing on rarely cited stories from the Yiddish American press, immigrant diaries and letters, and official accounts, Markel follows the immigrants on their journey from a squalid and precarious existence in Russia's Pale of Settlement, to their passage in steerage, to New York's Lower East Side, to the city's quarantine islands.
  • Markel also explains how quarantine policy was shaped both by medical opinions and by popular perceptions of disease. He explores the complex political, economic, and social battles that guide or obstruct a community's quarantine efforts, as well as the extent to which a person's ethnicity frames the social response. And he shows how Gilded Age Americans, alarmed by the rising tide of immigrants, found in "undesirable" aliens a scapegoat for all that was ailing a rapidly changing nation.
  • "At present," Markel concludes, "the isolation or quarantine of people with specific contagious diseases is neither an antiquated practice nor a theoretical discussion. It remains an occasional reality of public health control." At a time of renewed anti-immigrant sentiment and newly emerging infectious diseases, Quarantine! provides a historical context for considering some of the significant problems that face American society today.
Bibliographic references
Includes bibliographical references (p. [195]-252) and index.
0801855128 (alk. paper)
C - O