Justin Curtis Blog Post 3

Blog Post 3

On the third and final trip to the national archives I did manage to find some interesting documents that could potentially help our final project. One thing that I have noticed throughout my research is that medical inspectors are far from perfect when it comes to their assessment of disease. Last time my group stumbled upon a 1912 discrepancy between the findings of a Dr. Hume, who found trachoma in multiple patients in Eagle Pass, and chief medical examiner Dr. Tappan, who re-examined these same immigrants and found them clean. I mention this because this time I once again found an example of discrepancy between two diagnoses—once again in 1912. In this instance it was the opposite problem. A Dr. Wright cleared a patient who had third-stage syphilis, a disease with very obvious physical symptoms. The main difference between the two cases is their final outcome: according to additional research conducted on Dr. Hume, he held his position until his death despite his feud with a superior-ranking doctor that went all the way to the Surgeon General. The final record for Dr. Wright, on the other hand, is him being unceremoniously fired. This would suggest that allowing immigrants with diseases into the country was dealt with much more strictly than denying access to healthy immigrants. Additional research has illuminated more facts about Dr. Wright: his full name is Frederick Thompson Wright, and after he was dismissed from the immigration services he traveled abroad, writing a (terrible) memoir about his travels in the exotic lands to the East (like, seriously, it’s just poorly-written. It’s racist, and it’s also a bad book). He also continued to practice medicine until 1926—interestingly, he was replaced in both his positions by the same doctor, a doctor Edward Adamson, in what could be a case of professional cronyism.

Commissioner-General, Washington, DC, to Surgeon General, Washington, DC, July 23, 1912, File 51836/14, Subject Correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington, DC).

Rupert Blue, Surgeon General, to Commissioner-General of Immigration, Washington, DC, March 16, 1912, File 53431/25, Subject Correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington, DC).

Justin Curtis Blog Post 2

On the second trip we took to the National Archives, I had much more success than last time. One particular file of interest was on J.W. Tappan, the chief medical examiner at El Paso. It seems to be an extensive personnel record that includes details about him being dispatched to Eagle Pass to investigate a misdiagnosis issue—a Doctor Hume was apparently diagnosing healthy people with Trachoma. Sumner also came across this same incident; if we were able to find more on this it could be an excellent case study. As of right now we don’t have any evidence of whether the misdiagnoses were accidental or malicious (the files we have are from before Tappan’s visit to Eagle Pass, before he could actually investigate); either way it could provide useful data. In the event that it was accidental, we could glean some knowledge about the evolving nature of medical tests—Sumner’s file mentioned something about how it might be necessary to administer different tests, since Hume’s tests were returning false positives. If it was malicious, it could provide details on how nativism negatively affected immigrants. Either way it is evidence that false positives occurred. If it was malicious I suspect that we might not find much more on the subject; preliminary research on Hume suggests that he held his position at Eagle Pass until his death, so he wasn’t punished for anything, and it is impossible to prove intent without confession. The box that this file came from also has a great deal of other files on doctors working along the border, so it might be worth pulling again to potentially provide a more holistic understanding of medical examinations. 

Citation for File of Interest:

Comissioner-General, Washington, DC, to Surgeon General, Washington, DC, July 23, 1912, File 51836/14, Subject Correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington, DC).

Justin Curtis Archive Post #1

When I went to the National Archives, I was looking for information on medical examinations of immigrants coming into El Paso, Texas. I had four files pulled. Two of them (case file 54,152-46, which was supposed to be files on a typhoid epidemic on the Mexican border; and case file 55,638-925, which bore the description “Medical Inspection of Aliens at El Paso”) were missing from the folders, which is a shame because those had the most relevance to the topic. One of them (case file 55,630-25) ended up being a massive collection of correspondence relating to salary negotiation for border inspectors, which was both not what I wanted and, even worse, boring. The last (Case file 54,717-31, under the heading “Maria Paz Rodriguez–gonorrhoea”) was a file on a single Mexican immigrant who had been deported for prostitution, then snuck back into the country only to be caught and deported again. The file did not have any information on the medical examination, beyond its result: that she was afflicted with “Gonorrhoea, a loathsome, contagious disease.” This phrase was repeated again and again in the documents; it appears to be an official classification. 

One thing I was not prepared for is how much of an immigrant’s life could be gleaned from the official interviews conducted by border inspectors (the interviews are ridiculously invasive, which is terrible for the immigrants but very helpful to historians). Combing through interviews for other subjects outside of my project’s purview allowed me to catch similar glimpses of other immigrant’s lives. It seems like that particular file was dealing with prostitution, because that seems to be the recurring theme.It was fascinating to learn just how easy it was to convict an immigrant of prostitution: one immigrant was deported because he rented a room to a young woman who entertained a male guest who was not her husband.  Another was deported because he was in a shoot-out, which is exciting. Going forward I should be able to pull more files, and hopefully fewer will be missing, allowing me to get better research done.