Ellis Island Quarantine, NY: Deaths in Quarantine, 1909-1911

Flying the Quarantine flag

Deaths in Quarantine, 1909-1911


Going Through Ellis Island

Part 2 of 3
By Dr. Alfred C. Reed, U.S. Public Health Service, Ellis Island

Source: The Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXXXII, No. 1, January 1913, pages 5-18
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The medical inspection of all immigrant aliens is performed by officers of the United State Public Heath Service. This service dates from an act of congress in 1798 creating the original Marine Hospital Service, which conducted hospitals at all large ports and inland waterway cities for seamen of the American merchant marine. The duties of the service have since been enlarged to include all features of national health protection. Its officer rank equal with those of the army and navy medical corps, and are found in all parts of the world pursuing their investigations and carrying out measures to protect the public health of the United States. The medical inspection of immigrants is not the least important of their functions. The Bureau of Immigration is under the Department of Commerce and Labor, while the Public Health Service is under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury.

Hospital on Island 2


There are 82 immigration stations embracing the entire coastline and frontiers of the United States as well as the entry of aliens into the Philippines, Porto (sic) Rico and Hawaii. During the fiscal year of 1911, the total number of immigrants examined was 1,093,809. Of these 27, 412 were certified for some mental or physical defect. By far the most important point of entry is Ellis Island, where 749,642 aliens were examined. Nearly 17,000 medical certificates were issued here, and more than 5,000 of these were deported

The Ellis Island station of the Public Health Service has 25 medical officers attached, including 6 specially trained in the diagnosis and observation of mental disorders. Their work is divided into three sections, the boarding division, the hospital and the line. The boarding division has its offices at Battery Park, N.Y. By means of a fast and powerful cutter, The Immigrant, these men meet all incoming liners as they leave the New York Quarantine Station and start up the bay. Their inspection is limited to aliens in the first and second cabins. Such as require a more careful and detailed examination are sent to Ellis Island. The others are discharged at the dock, after having passed the additional inspection of the Department of Commerce and Labor. At the dock, all third and fourth class aliens are transferred to barges, carrying about 700 each, and taken to Ellis Island.

[Web Editor's Note: It is important to note that the Quarantine Station, at which all ships arriving at New York Harbor were required to stop and clear before entering the Harbor, was under the jurisdiction of the State of New York. Whereas, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Immigration authorities at Ellis Island were under the Federal jurisdiction. See the article entitled "When Liners Get In" to see the process by which agency each authority contacted the incoming ships.]

Ellis Island lies close to the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe's Island, about a mile from Battery Park. It is the most commanding location in New York Harbor. It consists of one small natural island and two additional artificial ones, connected with the first by a covered passageway across the intervening strip of water. On the first island is the main immigration station. The other two are occupied by the hospital division of the medical service. On one of these is the general hospital and on the further one the contagious hospital, consisting of separate pavilions, connected with open covered passageways. Each hospital can accommodate close to 200 patients at once, and is usually fairly full. The service is limited strictly to aliens, and the expense of each immigrant receiving hospital care is charged to the steamship company which brought him. This hospital is excellently conducted and every method of most approved diagnostic, surgical and medical technique is practiced. A rare variety of diseases is seen. Patients literally from the farthest corners of the earth come together here. Rare tropical diseases, unusual internal disorders, strange skin lesions, as well as the more frequent cases of a busy general city hospital present themselves. The variety of contagious diseases is unusual and extreme diagnostic skill is required of the physicians in charge. In the fiscal year 1911, over 6,000 cases were treated in the hospital, exclusive of 720 cases transferred to the Quarantine Hospital at the Harbor entrance before the completion of the present contagious hospital on Ellis Island.

Examining eyes on the line at Ellis Island

The third division of the medical inspection is "the line" or primary inspection. This is the part that the visitor to the island sees, and has been often described. Suffice it to say that as the immigrants leave the barges they pass in single file before the medical officers who pick out all who present evidence of any mental or physical defect. They are turned aside into the medical examining rooms for more careful observations. Each defect or disease receives a medical certificate signed by three physicians, which places the bearer in one of the three classes already mentioned. Those who require immediate medical or surgical care for any reason are transferred to the hospital, as are also certain cases in which longer observation and more detailed examination are necessary for diagnosis. Examples of this are tuberculosis, parasitic scalp diseases, mental disorders and trachoma.

Having been certified or passed clear in the medical division, the immigrant goes together with those from the barge who have not been turned aside, to the up or registry floor, for the inspection of the immigrant authorities. These inspectors ask the same questions that the immigrant was required to answer when the ship's manifest was filled out before embarkation. This covers such information as name, age, destination, race, nativity, last residence, occupation, condition of health, nearest relative or friend in the old country, who paid his passage, whether in United States before, whether ever in prison, whether a polygamist or anarchist, whether coming under any contract labor scheme, and personal marks of identification such as height, and color of eyes and hair. Any discrepancies in the answers are noted. The immigrant is also required to show what money he has. All who do not meet these questions satisfactorily or who hold medical certificates of classes A or B, are held for a rigid examination before a Board of Special Inquiry, which decides whether or not they shall be admitted. Each of these boards consists of three members, the decision of two members being final. The hearings of the boards are private, but a complete copy of the proceedings is made and filed in Washington.

Those who are to be deported are held on the island until the vessel on which they came is ready for its return voyage. In the event of deportation being ordered, the alien may appeal from the decision of the board to the commission of the port, from him to the commissioner-general of immigration, and they to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor.

Those immigrants who have passed satisfactorily and are bound for New York City are sent to the "New York room" to await friends or responsible parties who come for them. This is one of the most dramatic and thrilling spots on the island, for it is the reunion place of friends, relatives and lovers. The Irish girl who came two years ago meets the sister and the old mother. The one is pale, nervous, and clad in New York garb; the others have never seen the ocean until their good ship sailed, and their brilliant cheeks and country dress are in keeping with their dense ignorance and shyness. They know the price of shoes and what spuds are worth at market, but it is beyond them to recall the date of their birthday or what the present month may be.

Those immigrants who are destined for points other than New York City are sent to the railroad room. Here they change their money for United States coin, and buy their railroad tickets under careful supervision. Their baggage is checked; they have a telegraph, cable and post office of their own, and may buy lunches whose contents are exhibited to all in glass cases. Special agents see that each one buys a lunch proportioned to the size of his family and the length of his journey. Cigars, cakes and fruits are also to be had. One day a stolid and emotionless Slavish woman opened her cardboard lunch box at the bottom and extracted a piece of bologna cut on the bias, smelled it carefully from different sides, licked it, finally tasted it, and then broke into a flood of smiles as she pressed it forcibly into the mouth of her equally stolid two-year-old baby. And the baby sucked and munched on the new world dainty in undiscerning pleasure! But the greatest mystery in the lunch box is usually the small round fruit pie. Some carefully raise the crust and extract the contents with a much-used finger. Another whittles it off in slices with a murderous knife a foot in length, while another will carefully eat off all the crust and discard the interior. A bearded Cossack with great care and patience chewed a hole through one corner of a tin of sardines. Then with praiseworthy perseverance, he sucked out the oil! From the railroad room, the immigrants are taken in barges to the depot of the railroad on which their journey is to be made.

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