Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

A Doctor Decries the Public Health Danger of Immigrants

Starting in the 1890s, many Americans feared that the arrival of large numbers of immigrants from countries in Eastern and Southern Europe was bad for society. They claimed that immigrants could not easily assimilate, or fit in, and that they were willing to work for very low wages. Some people also believed that these immigrants brought diseases with them and were a threat to public health. Doctors inspected immigrants entering the U.S. through Ellis Island for specific diseases, such as tuberculosis and trachoma (an eye disease). The doctor who wrote this article, however, believed that this was not enough to protect the public from immigrants.

Thousands of immigrants of poor physique are recorded as such by the medical inspectors at Ellis Island, and a card to this effect sent to the registry clerk or immigrant inspector with the immigrant, but this mere note of physical defect carries little significance under the present law, and the vast majority of them are admitted by the immigration authorities, because it does not appear that the physical defect noted will make the immigrant a public charge. . . . 

The real danger to the public health from immigration lies in that class of immigrants whose physique is much below American standards, whose employment is in the sweat-shop, and whose residence is the East Side tenement in New York City. The Mediterranean races, Syrians, Greeks and southern Italians, who are unused to a cold climate, and who often have insufficient clothing, also establish in their crowded quarters splendid [centers] for the dissemination of disease. The Hebrews, Syrians, Greeks, and southern Italians invariably crowd the most insanitary quarters of the great centers of population. And the various filthy and infected, though perhaps picturesque, foreign quarters constitute to-day the greatest existing menace to the public health.

Source | Dr. Allan McLaughlin, “Immigration and the Public Health,” Popular Science (January 1904), 232, 236-237.
Creator | Allan McLaughlin
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Allan McLaughlin, “A Doctor Decries the Public Health Danger of Immigrants,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 2, 2023,

Print and Share